Lessons on Leadership

How Having a “Number One” Mentality May Keep You out of Leadership Roles

By Jacquelyn Adams

While writing articles that display my leadership prowess is much more fun (and easier on my ego), plenty of these articles also covered my shortcomings. Hopefully, these humble pies I’ve been eating have allowed others to learn from my mistakes and take a more satisfying course.

In this episode of “Oh, Jacquelyn, why did you ever act like that?” we will be delving into some of the missteps I made as I attempted (and failed so hard) to show leadership qualities. Because, friends, my mindset was that I had to act like the top dog to be a leader. If I was on top and everyone was clearly below me in abilities and performance, I would be acknowledged as a leader. It took time, but eventually I realized that leadership was much more than my ability to do my job.

Be more than self-sufficient

There is something amazing about a worker who can be handed a project and then be left to their own devices. Managers have complete confidence in their work and know they can troubleshoot their way out of any hiccups along the way. They are self-sufficient.

This was the worker I strived to be. I was capable and didn’t need to rely on others to accomplish my given tasks.

However, even if independence is a critical attribute that many managers want employees to have, it does not make that individual a leader. In no way does independence demonstrate an ability to engage with others. Actually, self-sufficiency taken to the fullest extent is isolation, which in no way prepares an employee to facilitate like a leader, much less navigate workplace politics.

Be more than the best

Ok, so let me take an extra slice of this pie while I share this one. Not only did I want to be self-sufficient, I wanted to be the best… and I wanted everyone to know it. I would put in the extra hours, work to earn the top scores, and always sprint that extra mile. Then, in those moments when I saw what I viewed as a strategic opening, I would point out how much more I was doing or how I was outperforming than so-and-so. I was so clever. Obviously, this plan would help management see that I was leadership material.

Ouch. I simultaneously want to shake my head and also shake that younger me. In hindsight, this method is very far from effective, and those coworkers certainly deserved better.

So, if you find yourself in the same place, hopefully, your coworkers can receive better from you, starting today. Please take pride in your work. Truly invest in growing and achieving. However, never at the expense of others. Leaders do not need to tear others down to look good or feel powerful.

Be a team builder

In the end, one of the primary attributes of a leader is being a team builder. A leader is not a one-person show, but someone who can bring out the best in those around them. They are a teacher, a challenger, and an instigator who asks questions and can listen to input. A leader is someone who knows the people on their team, and understands the individual strengths and weaknesses represented by that team. This allows them to encourage healthy growth in the areas of struggle, while also knowing the best person for the task at hand.

And this does not begin when someone is promoted. A person is often promoted because they are cultivating these relationships. They choose to take on the additional responsibilities and empower their coworkers. Of course, for all of this to be done without a condescending teacher/student, it begins with cultivating relationships. To know where we can support and challenge our coworkers, we need to know them.

So, friends, it is time we accept that no leader is an island. We cannot climb that corporate ladder just by outperforming everyone else and attempting to push our competitors back down. It is not enough to be the best. A leader seeks the best of those around us, and as a result, works for the best of the company as a whole. By multiplying our efforts with those around us and creating that synergy, we have more of an impact than we ever could alone. And that, not the alpha dog, is the type of leader businesses want.


Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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