Given it’s still just about January and the turning of a new page, this is the moment when I need to write about all the great things we should accomplish in the next 11 months of this year, isn’t it? Well, I just can’t bring myself to conform to the cliché.
Instead, I’m wondering how different this year might look if I made it not about me.
Leonard Bernstein, the late conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, was once asked to name the most difficult instrument to play. Without hesitation, he replied: “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem; and if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.”
In truth, if I spent more time second fiddling then my community would probably produce better music anyway.
In his brilliant book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells the strangest story about a guy called Christopher Langan – a genius with a staggering IQ of 195 (just to put that in perspective, Einstein was 150). During his school years, Langan could ace any foreign language exam just by skimming the textbook two to three minutes before the test. But Langan never made the most of his amazing ability and ended up working on a horse farm in rural Missouri.
According to Gladwell, Langan never had a second fiddler – a community to help him capitalise on his gifts.
Gladwell summarises his story in one sentence. “Langan had to make his way alone, and no one – not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires and not even geniuses – ever makes it alone.”
My favourite TED Talk in recent years is unquestionably one by entrepreneur Derek Sivers on “How to start a movement”. If you’ve got three minutes, it’s definitely worth a watch.
If you don’t, then let me briefly summarise; it takes followers to make a leader. A leader without any followers is just a loner, probably doing something crazy. Following someone is what transforms them into a leader.
So why not make your goal for this year about helping someone who isn’t you? Find a person that you think is doing something great, and give them everything you’ve got. Apparently in the King James Version of the Bible, the word ‘leader’ is mentioned only six times. The word ‘servant’ is mentioned more than 900 times. I confess I’ve not counted to see whether or not that’s true, but either way, serving seems to be thought of more highly by Jesus.
“The greatest among you will be your servant.” Matthew 23:11
Either way, why not pick up a second fiddle this month, and see if the result isn’t better music.
To finish with a long overdue quote from The Hobbit: “May you appear where you are most needed, and least expected.”