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leaders getting in their own way


Hiroo Onoda is not a household name. In fact, Hiroo Onoda didn’t even set foot in a household for over 30 years.

He was a Japanese soldier during World War II and was stationed in the Philippines. His orders were to spy on American troops.

He was pretty darn good at following orders.

World War II ended in 1945 (spoiler alert: Japan lost), but nobody told Hiroo. Or, rather, they told him, he just didn’t want to believe it.

Hiroo was stubborn. Perhaps the most stubborn person in modern human history.

Despite pleas from both his family and military officials, Hiroo refused to believe the war was over and, as a result, insisted on hiding out in the Philippine jungle and continuing his mission.

He remained there for 29 years after the end of World War II.


It wasn’t until 1974 that Hiroo returned home. It took his former commander flying out to the Philippine jungle to formally relieve Hiroo of duty (and, no doubt, shake his head in disbelief at the same time).

This is important to understand, because there may very well be a little bit of a Hiroo in you (minus the Philippine jungle part).

    Doing Things Your Own Way

    There’s a difference between DOING IT your own way and GETTING IN your own way.

    When it comes to your own behavior, it’s sometimes hard to see the true reflection in the mirror. When your mind is set on a process, it can be hard to distinguish whether your efforts are moving you forward or holding you back.

    Of course, your default is to always believe your efforts are moving you forward. But like our friend Hiroo, when you are so close to the trees, it’s sometimes hard to see the jungle.

    As it turns out, there are a few leadership personality types that are prone to blurring the line between doing it their own way and getting in their own way.

    The question is, how much of a Hiroo is in you?

    Let’s look at the three leadership personality types.

    leaders getting in their own way

    1. The Perfectionist Leader

    Perfection is the enemy of progress. Perfection takes time, and put into the wrong hands, it sure can waste time.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much in favor of striving for perfection. But the operative word there is “striving”.

    You can try for perfection, but it’s critically important to know when to stop. In the words of the great leader, Queen Elsa, you need to know when to “let it go, let it go”.

    The perfectionist leader is the person who needs to do things their way because they believe they can make it perfect. But perfect doesn’t exist and they just can’t let it go. Inevitably, they cross the chasm from doing things their own way to getting in their own way.

    The result is often massive delays, lack of communication, and shifting priorities. It’s hugely frustrating for those working with the perfectionist leader.

    It’s like being in an air balloon and rising up into the sky only to realize that the rope is still tying you to the ground. With the perfectionist, you’re always stuck before you can ever soar.

    leaders getting in their own way

    2. The Juggler Leader

    One day when I was 12 years old I decided to teach myself how to juggle. I went out onto our front lawn with some tennis balls and stayed there until I was a Juggler. By the time the sun went down, I could effectively juggle three balls. When I added the fourth ball it all fell apart.

    I tell you this because it is pretty darn symbolic of the next personality type.

    There is a type of person – that absolutely definitely does in no way resemble me – that feels a need to do everything. They want things done their way because their way is the best. So they tend to juggle multiple roles and responsibilities.

    They will always say yes to a new opportunity regardless of their ability to effectively handle it. Eventually, the juggler leader will start dropping the balls but still insist that they are fine.

    And that’s the point where they get in their own way.

    “I’ve got it,” they’ll insist as they continue to fall further behind.

    “I’m ok,” they’ll say as the smoke begins to pour out of their colleagues’ ears.

    But they aren’t ok because they have gotten in their own way.

    leaders getting in their own way

    3. The Soloist Leader

    My sister recently needed to replace a headlight on her car, so she decided to do it herself. ‘Cause that’s the type of person she is.

    So you know, replacing a headlight isn’t like screwing in a lightbulb. You have to remove the bumper and the side panel, and you’ve got to unscrew things from the engine. There are a lot of pieces and parts and gobbledygook that get in the way.

    Wait, I forgot to mention, my sister isn’t a car mechanic. In fact, she’s never worked on a car before in her life.

    On another note, there are people who just feel a need to do everything themselves. They may even be really smart and really good at doing things. But that doesn’t mean they should do it themselves.

    There’s a point in solo activities where you realize that you can improve progress by bringing in the support of other people.

    The Soloist Leader misses that part. They strongly believe that they should do it their own way, and as a result, they eventually get in their own way.

    What results are usually projects that never see the light of day or fail to reach completion, as if it’s a front lawn filled with partially worked-on cars in various stages of cinderblock display.

    The Hiroo In You

    Hiroo had an assignment – to spy on Americans. And he was dedicated to doing his job and doing it well.

    He was extremely loyal and extremely committed. That’s the type of employee you want, right?

    In fact, that might be the type of person you are.

    But we all eventually run into situations around the Perfectionist, Juggler or Soloist Leaders that challenge our belief of doing things our own way.

    So tell me, where is the Hiroo in you?

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      A Somewhat Relevant Quote

      There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don’t allow yourself to become one of them

      Ralph Marston, Daily motivator

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