Not the brightest crayon in the crayon box

During a coaching session last week with a client, I used a phrase that I often use “I’m not the brightest crayon in the crayon box”.  I went on to say that I don’t believe I need to be the smartest person.  Rather, I  try to continually learn from other people, experiences, and other sources.

My client at first laughed at the funny saying but then they were intrigued by what I said about not being the smartest.

(Ok, I admit some would say that this is both a strange saying and especially strange–if not downright dumb– to say in the presence of your client.  I couldn’t disagree more.)

I went on to explain that the saying comes from my youngest niece.  She once said that I wasn’t the brightest crayon.  (And as an aside, as a proud uncle, I’m happy to say that she’s now thriving in her career and is a member of Leadership Brazos training program.)

For me, I thought what she said was actually quite profound.

Simply put, it’s okay if you don’t know everything.  Be curious.  It resonates with another quote I’ve often used in working with leaders:

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the life-long attempt to acquire it.”  Albert Einstein  –Letter to an admirer, March 22, 1954; quoted in Dukas and Hoffmann, Albert Einstein, the Human Side, p.44.

In sharing this quote with my client, they wanted to know more about how leaders balance intellect and humility, knowledge and curiosity, discipline and creativity, collaboration and working alone.  Leaders encompass these characteristics as well as the ability inspire others.

So what I left them with was a list of other quotes that I believe sum up what a leader strives for personally and with others.  Take a look at the list, let me know what you think, and add others that resonate with you: 

“What makes a company great is not primarily its top leaders, but the quality of its innumerable everyday ones.” –John Holmes (UN Humanitarian Chief)

 “We’re not born into leadership.  We convert” – Good Company magazine 

“Good leaders were first good followers” – Don Ward (UK entrepreneur)

“Strange as it sounds, the best leaders gain authority by giving away.”  –James Stockdale (US Admiral)

“The best leaders will be those who listen to their people to figure out where they should be going.”  — Jack Kahl (author Leading from the Heart

“Excellent organizations do not foster ‘we and they’ attitudes.”  –Tom Peters (author, In Search of Excellence) 

“The ultimate test for a leader is not whether he or she makes smart decision and takes decisive action, but whether he or she teaches others to make smart decisions and take decisive action.”  — Noel  Tichy (professor and author,  University of Michigan)

“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” – Henry Ford (American inventor) 

“A leader leads by example not by force.” –Sun Tzu (philosopher)

“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.” –Dwight Eisenhower (American president) 

“Effective leaders work throughout the organization; they do not just sit on top.”  — Henry Mintzberg (professor and author)

“Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners and teammates.  The more they understand, the more they’ll care.  Once they care, there’s no stopping them. Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish”  — Sam Walton (retailing innovator) 

“There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few we can solve by ourselves.”  — Lyndon B. Johnson (US President)

“To your customer’s way of thinking, you are the company.”  –Ron Zemke (author) 

“The essential difference in service is not machines or things.  The essential difference is minds, hearts, spirits, and souls.”  –Herb Kelleher (Chairman Emeritus, Southwest Airlines)

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” —Lao Tzu (philospher) 

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”. —John F. Kennedy (American president)

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” — Margaret Thatcher (British prime minister) 

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