Author and entrepreneur James Altucher writes in his book “The Rich Employee” that he’s had four mentors in his life. And while they all were crucial to his career advancement, they all ultimately failed him.
That’s because they wanted him to fail at some point, Altucher says.
He learned what he could and did as he was told, “but at some point, when I wanted to go on my own and learn more and start my own business or direction, they were all angry and they all tried to stop me and none of them talk to me anymore,” he writes.
It stems from insecurity and comes down to a simple principle, Altucher says: “Leadership doesn’t ask the question, ‘How good can I get? How far can I get?’ Leadership asks the question, ‘How far can the people around me get?'”
The best leaders do achieve success, but not by being selfish. A great example of the leader Altucher most admires is the late Stanford professor Rajeev Motwani, who served as a mentor to Google cofounder Sergey Brin.
In a 2009 blog post following Motwani’s death, Brin wrote:
Officially, Rajeev was not my advisor, and yet he played just as big a role in my research, education, and professional development. … Even though I was just one of hundreds of graduate students in the department, he always made the time and effort to help. Later, when Larry and I began to work together on the research that would lead to Google, Rajeev was there to support us and guide us through challenges, both technical and organizational.
Eventually, as Google emerged from Stanford, Rajeev remained a friend and advisor as he has with many people and startups since … his legacy and personality live on in the students, projects, and companies he has touched. Today, whenever you use a piece of technology, there is a good chance a little bit of Rajeev Motwani is behind it.
Altucher advocates for the type of leader that Wharton professor Adam Grant calls a “giver,” those who seek out opportunities to help people they respect and appreciate.
“If you’re a giver, then you build quality relationships, and with those relationships you’re exposed to opportunity over the long term,” Grant told Business Insider last year. “You actually increase your own luck so far as you contribute things to other people.
In Altucher’s example, Motwani became a significant player in Silicon Valley through his desire to see others succeed. And while Brin and his business partner Larry Page are both fiercely driven, the reason why so many great leaders of companies emerge from Google is because they carry on Motwani’s tradition.
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