These are the people we look up to; people we want to be, presidents, captains of industry, the movers and shakers of the new economy.
What do all of these people have in common besides their accomplishments? They speak volumes about how we, as a society, view success. We celebrate the torchbearers, the ones who get the headlines, and this is great.
To a point.
Sometimes however, all of this glorification of achievement can cause us to forget that no one succeeds in a vacuum. I have been reading a book on American history recently and one of the men the author spends quite a bit of time on is James Madison.
When one conjures a mental image of the Founding Fathers, Madison is probably not the first to come to mind. He was not witty like Benjamin Franklin or stately like George Washington. Still, while some historians credit Thomas Jefferson’s influence, it is Madison who often now receives greater acknowledgement as the father of the Constitution—even though he repeatedly rejected this honor during his lifetime.
He worked tirelessly behind the scenes and often without recognition, such as when support for the newly crafted Constitution was lacking in some states. Madison stepped up and helped write The Federalist Papers (what today we would call op-eds) under a pen name in order to drum up support. He did not grandstand or put himself out there as the face of the new constitution. He worked anonymously and got the job done.
Leading from behind has gotten a bad wrap in the press lately, but it is a tried and true technique to affect change. Not everyone will be the face of an organization, but many people can have a hand in being the proverbial power behind the throne.
Innovation takes teams, not individuals.
I think this is a good thing to be reminded of from time to time, and not just so that we can give credit where credit is due. It also bears remembering in regards to our own careers. Just because you may not have your name on the door does not mean that you can’t be a fundamental agent of change or success in your company.
So the next time you ask Siri for a good local Thai restaurant just remember, Steve Jobs may have been an idea-generating genius and regular cover story bait, but without a top-notch tech team behind him, you’d still be looking in the yellow pages for good pad Thai.