Fools Names and Fools Faces

It was reported in the Wall Street Journal this morning that at Berkshire Hathaway Inc’s annual meeting last Saturday Warren Buffet was “asked whether a CEO should keep his political views ‘muted’ prompting Mr. Buffet to respond that he has a duty to share his views on economic issues.”  I strongly disagree with Mr. Buffet.  It is not his “duty.” His duty is to his company’s shareholders, customers and employees.  Can we even count the number of times President Obama has referenced “The Buffet Rule” in recent speeches?  Buffet is being used by Mr. Obama for the president’s political purposes.  In the meantime, his company’s B shares have trailed Standard and Poor’s 500-stock index by nearly five percentage points in the last 12 months and eight points in the last three years.

News reports this morning are filled with pictures of Warren Buffet.  I can’t help but to think about what I wrote in Managers, Can You Hear Me Now? about the mindset of successful managers.  I said the best managers I know never get caught up in their own self-importance.

Being a leader of a company or any organization, large or small, can be a heady position.  As a leader you often tell people what to do and how to do it.  You may fly off to far-away places, ride in limousines and stay in nice hotels, or get invited to present a speech, talk with reporters, and maybe even appear on television.  Given all these benefits of your position, it would be easy to become self-absorbed.  On any given day, you might think it really is “all about me.”

When leaders use the words “I” and “my” rather than “we” and “our” when describing the organization they lead, or when talking about results, it’s a dead giveaway that their mindset is too self-centered.

Another sign that a leader is “hung-up” on him or herself is when their names and faces repeatedly appear in newspapers and industry publications, on the cover of magazines, or even in television commercials.  It is these same individuals who may overexpose themselves in social media.   Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can be easily overused for purposes of self-promotion.

I am reminded of seventeenth-century historian Thomas Fuller’s words, “Fools’ names and fools’ faces are often seen in public places.”

Successful leaders don’t get trapped into thinking it’s all about them.  Instead, they know that the organization they lead is not made up of any one person, but rather it is the sum of all its resources and people.

4 Responses to Fools Names and Fools Faces

  1. Bob Stott says:

    This is a terrific post and it is spot- on. I would like to note that several
    of these self-absorbed “leaders” are in prison, such as Ebbers, Scrushy,
    Mad off, the TYCO CEO & CFO and others.

  2. Mark Fowler says:

    The lessons of Denny’s article apply doubly to politicians; they are oblivious to the fact that they are treated as important because of their position, not because of their inherent personal “greatness.”

  3. Lauren Teger says:

    I’ll never forget early in my career at VZW when you agreed to be interviewed by me for my Business Ethics course. You certainly had many more important things to do than to help me with my project, however, you found the time to be interviewed about your leadership style and the importance of leadership. I’ll never forget this experience and proves that in your career self-importance was relegated to others. I received an “A” for my work although by all rights it was you who deserved it. Thank you. I believe your leadership style was one that could never be called, “Fools Names and Fools Faces”.

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