This one time in one of my companies, an employee said to me, “You’re not like other leaders. You’re normal”

This bugged me.

A lot.

It bugged me so much that I’m writing about it now, well over a decade later.

Yeah, I guess I hold on to things for awhile.

But seriously, am I normal?!

Do I want to be normal?

What does it actually mean to be normal and “not like other leaders”?

These are the questions I’ve asked myself and, as it turns out, they are exactly the ones we are going to explore together.

How fun.

Don’t worry though. In the end, this isn’t about me as much as it’s about you. But let’s not jump ahead quite yet. In order to get to you, we’ve first got to talk about my skin.

Me and My Skin

I spent a really long time feeling uncomfortable in my own skin.

I always knew who I wanted to be, but I wasn’t ever really sure who I actually was.

(Editor’s Note: That’s a damn good sentence right there 👆🏽👆🏽👆🏽. Read it again and contemplate whether it connects with you too).

I wanted to be a strong and confident leader who could inspire people to be their best.

I wanted to be great.

But inside I felt far less than great. ‘Strong’ and ‘confident’ were not the words I’d have ever used to describe myself.

So I did what any other normal everyday Imposter Syndrome feeling person would do: I tried to learn about leadership by copying others.

I read incessantly. I tried to use the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in order to Win Friends and Influence People as I Dared to Lead and attempted to Get to Yes by Starting with Why.

I tried to remember all the advice I got from everything I read, but it was too darn hard. When the disparate philosophies were put together, none of them actually made any sense.

After all these self-help books, I still remained self-helpless.

So I devoured a massive amount of books about a massive amount of influential leaders. Richard Branson and Phil Knight. Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford. And so many more.

I wanted to lead like the best of them. I wanted to be as great as the greatest.

But during this journey, I realized one important thing: some of the values of these “great leaders” were far different than my own personal values.

Let’s be frank…

Whenever I was confronted with a situation at work, I’d ask myself WWGLD (what would a great leader do). But gosh darnnit, I didn’t know which leader was great or which answer to follow.

Should I listen to the lessons from the daily-planner guy or do I pay attention to the Nazi sympathizer fella? Do I learn from the leader who manipulated the media or the dude that continually demeaned people?

It was too confusing.

One thing became fairly evident: I wasn’t Branson or Knight or Carnegie or Ford or any of them.

I was me.

And apparently I was normal.