Discover more from Below the Surface
Dive 57: Why the Greatest Leaders are Elevators.
Hey, it’s Alvin!
I came across a blog by a genius. Well, she called herself a “genius.” I don’t know much about her. She’s an adult who wrote about how she was a genius back when she was a kid in elementary school.
She’d finish all her classwork and homework. Then she’d sit at her desk. Bored. She wrote about how she wished the education system would allow geniuses like her to “level up” faster. Maybe she could have graduated from elementary school at 8 years old. The argument is that holding back the geniuses affects them negatively.
I don’t understand that. I’m not a genius at all, but how is it that a genius could not figure out a way to make the education system work better for them?
In response to her being bored at her desk, I asked her if she thought about helping her fellow classmates with their work. I never got a reply from her. But other geniuses jumped in with comments like, “kids the same age won’t listen to you,” and “you’re just going to get bullied.”
I admit, I didn’t realize geniuses might lack social skills.
Or maybe the meaning of “genius” changes with context.
Schools, for instance, create an illusion of perfection. In school, it’s possible to get a “perfect score.” 100%. There’s nothing beyond that unless you count “bonus points,” which are usually limited too. There’s an artificial achievement ceiling. And the focus of the academic genius is on individual achievement. Those who get A+++ grades are called “geniuses,” and nothing greater is possible in school.
But success in the real world is often a different ball game.
Since graduating from the education system, I never once felt like I’ve mastered anything. I never feel like I could. It seems like there’s always a way to get better at whatever I do, whether it’s writing, cooking, or coding. But to what end?
In the real world, I find the idea of self-improvement for its own sake boring and meaningless. I’m just more driven to get better when I do it for those I love and care about most—my friends, my family, my neighbours. Do you feel the same way? It’s not just that I want to support my loved ones. I want to get stronger so I can lift them up too. The one who inspired me was a fellow named Rishi.
When I started working as a software developer, I had little confidence in my abilities. I was surrounded by people who only ever criticized everything I did wrong. So, I always felt like I couldn’t do anything right. Whatever confidence I had, I lost early on.
A few years later, I joined a software development team where I met Rishi. He would become our team’s technical lead. And also my mentor. But he wasn’t just my mentor. He devoted time to helping whoever needed help. He helped our team, the executives, and the administrative assistants, too. I considered Rishi a well-read autodidactic polymath.
But Rishi was also incredibly sociable. So, it’s not like he just knew a lot of things and gave lots of advice. Everyone loved him because he got along with everyone. When he gave feedback, it was constructive, but easy on the ears.
Even that wasn’t what made him a real genius. There are many talented people who excel at their jobs. But only genuine leaders elevate those around them. Why? Because they know they can’t achieve lofty goals alone.
Rishi didn’t just solve my problems for me. He didn’t just tell me to go figure it out myself, either. He always devoted time to sit down with me to work through problems together. It was like I was in the driver’s seat and he was the instructor right next to me. The goal was to help me understand how to work through the problem, so I could solve it myself with confidence next time.
Little by little, Rishi helped me restore the confidence I lost at the start of my career. I felt like I could lead a team and even started proposing new initiatives to our boss on how we can improve the software we made.
I felt amazing. Sometimes I like to reflect on that time of my career because it reminds me of why I want to improve as a person. I want to get stronger so I can help elevate others, just as Rishi did for me.
It reminds me of the proverb:
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
And the long-term benefit of teaching others how to fish reminds me of this quote:
“A society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they know they’ll never sit.”
I think sometimes we get stuck navel-gazing. Maybe we’re too caught up with how many likes and followers we have on social media. Or maybe we’re too mired in our own complicated emotions. Or maybe we’re just too focused on individual achievements or self-improvement for its own sake.
Sometimes we forget that helping a fellow human being can free us from our own miseries for a few reasons:
When you’re committed to helping another person, your focus is shifted away from yourself.
Thinking about another problem opens your mind to new perspectives that can help solve your own problems.
When you help someone solve their problem, you make a new friend who might be able to help you too.
Helping someone else overcome their obstacles feels amazing.
We are one. When we help others, we help ourselves.
That’s something the Greatest Leaders do instinctively. More than just being competent, they lift up those around them. The Greatest Leaders are not just geniuses; they’re elevators.
Be an elevator.
Look! There’s another story!
In the 8th grade, three of my friends and I were chatting and joking around at our desks during class. I don’t remember exactly what happened. But our teacher stopped mid-math-lesson to call us out. “Hey, if you guys already know this stuff, maybe you should come up to the blackboard and teach.”
We were like, “heck, yeah! Sure!”
Maybe we were smug. Puffing our chests a bit. We were also partly joking around because the teacher was a friendly dude, well-liked by students. He was a guy we could joke with.
That being said, we were up to the challenge. Because the lesson was on how to calculate simple interest. You know, “I = PRT.” And my friends and I already learned how to do that outside of our public school classes.
So, the teacher was like, “ok, then you guys can teach the class.” We had to prepare the whole lesson in a week. Classwork and homework. I even remember learning how to use the school photocopier to copy the homework questions we prepared. And we had to grade the homework after. Meanwhile, he moved onto the next subject.
When we gave our lesson a week later, it was an utter disaster. A fun disaster. But a disaster nonetheless. Because (a) we weren’t geniuses, and (b) we weren’t teachers. Teaching was a skill we clearly didn’t have.
And when you’re teaching as a group of four, you have to plan who’s going to teach what. It needs to be well-coordinated and communicated beforehand. Of course, we did NONE of that. We were 14-year-old boys. We didn’t know what we were doing. And we each had our own approach that clashed with one another.
At no point did I sense any resentment from classmates.
Some students had a genuine interest in learning.
Apathetic students were going to be apathetic no matter who’s up at the blackboard.
The rest of the students were just laughing at the train wreck of a lesson we gave.
But, clearly, it doesn’t take a genius to make or get more out of any situation.
What I didn’t realize then was that our teacher was (half-jokingly) elevating us. Did we really know our stuff? Would we rise to the challenge? Did we have what it takes to elevate our classmates?
Maybe not. Lesson learned. My friends and I knew we had to be better about lifting others.
Be an elevator.
Reply to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or comments. I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading. Elevate others. And I’ll see you in the next one.