#28 Cult of Personality
This is post #28 of my #365 day series.
I worry when people get too bought into me or the individuals on our team, instead of the mission that we are pursuing. It’s definitely easier to sell the idea of the business or a product when people are enamored with aspects of personality, because it feels so much more personal to the buyer. It’s the cult of personality that we hear about which get us into situations like the rise and fall of WeWork, Theranos, Nikola, and many others. I think a big part of us wants to put other people on a pedestal. It makes it easier when real life has superheroes.
But the sense of safety is where the benefits end. The cult of personality caters to the lowest denominator and takes away from a focus on substance and depth. How often have you heard the phrase “Fake it ’til you make it”? It encourages teams and individuals to sell a sense of themselves, to pretend that they are something they are not. It is ethos versus pathos. It encourages conformity with the expectations of what we think others want us to be. When we’re talking about people being nice to one another, that’s obviously a great standard to want others to conform to. However, when it comes to capitalistic ventures where it’s a zero sum game, we have much more devious features that we are encouraging. Showmanship, shysters, inauthentic and overblown statements, bloated egos, all things I’ve seen along the way.
When I chatted with a friend about what I would do if given the resources, what I wanted to accomplished, she told me “Wow, I don’t have the ego to think I’m capable of doing all of that.” That comment hurt me, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it made me think. Am I pursuing some egotistical venture? After a pause, I responded with what I thought. “It’s not ego. I don’t actually think I can actually accomplish all of the things I’ll set out to do, but I feel an obligation to try and do my best, because there are those less fortunate who don’t even have the opportunity.”
It’s not unhealthy to have an ego and to want to be liked. It becomes dangerous when all we care about is ego and to be liked. We take away from substance and forget that actions which merit praise contribute to a persons character. I wrote about this recently when it came to the increasing trend I’m seeing of people trying to take credit for the work of others instead of contributing their own work. I worry that we are slowly becoming a society of faces without substance. Faces that move their lips and say they care about people, but take minimal action to actually further that sentiment. Faces that say they are changing the world, just so long as you give them X dollars to get there. Faces that want to take shortcuts instead of putting in the work to pave roads for the next generation. Maybe I’ve romanticized humanity. Is it that the world is changing around me or am I finally seeing what’s there?