For every visible, celebrity leader, there are several inconspicuous leaders in the wings, working to make the visible leader look as if they are almost single-handedly bringing the organization’s mission into being. Think COO, Provost, Administrative Pastor, Office Manager, Executive Assistant, Personal Coach, and Spouse. By sheer weight of numbers we need to focus on developing scores more of them.
My favorite illustration of an inconspicuous leader is that of Blackie Ryan, the priest and novelist Andrew Greeley’s inconspicuous monsignor, bishop’s assistant and mystery solver among Chicago’s Irish Catholics.
Blackie isn’t noticed really unless he wants to be.
He is happy to let others take the credit for his brilliance.
He is much loved by his family.
Those he works for feel he is indispensable.
He is effective.
When he is needed to lead publicly, he does so.
When his public reponsibility is over he fades into the background once more.
He knows what is truly important and pursues it instead of getting distracted.
He solves locked door mysteries (a metaphor for finding a way through deep-seated, almost impossible problems)
We need more of these inconspicuous leaders if we are going to work our way through the great problems of our day. And where better to find the next round of celebrity leaders than among those who know how to work inconspicuously?
-mark l vincent