Peter started pulling faces and making mocking eating sounds while laughing at how Raj was eating his chicken stew. Peter had the look of “You idiot, you don’t even know how to behave with these elite people”.
Raj, professionally, ignored Peter and continued his conversation with Mack, the thought leader also invited to the proceedings and one of the “elite” Peter was referring to. Mack didn’t bat an eyelid at how Raj was eating, much more focused on the connection and idea-driven conversation they were having.
Peter had the formal leadership position but Raj was clearly seen as the true leader in this interaction.
Peter’s understanding of leadership was that all the superficial rituals that he has seen some leaders do, and more often had been told were true by his advisors, was actually all that leadership was. He did not understand that leadership involves authenticity, a sense of mission, an inner compass, and a connection to followers amongst other things. Because he couldn’t see these things, poor Peter had found that in his appointed position of power, he actually did not know what to do there and instead of working with a leadership coach in London, he thought superficial mimicry of some of what he observed constituted leadership. Faking it was making it.
As Raj’s respect grew in the organization, Peter, the formal leader, tried other means of trying to gain power over Raj. Put downs, like the above, gave way to passive aggression – accountants are bad people (Raj was an accountant). Which then gave way to emotional blackmail – if you don’t do what I say purely because I say it then you are a bad person.
Each time Raj, who was not blind to what was going on and often could feel the sting, would not capitulate and bow down to the (wannabe) all-powerful Peter. He would reflect on why this stings him, feel compassion for Peter’s inner weakness and pain that led to this behavior, and actually feel grateful that each of these interactions was allowing him to become the kind of authentic leader he wanted to be by stripping away more ego and also modeling the kind of leader he did not want.
In the end, Peter was a leader with no followers beyond other fakers like him. Raj’s star grew slowly but with authentic mission-driven followers was much more impactful, meaningful, and fulfilling.
From the best leadership book.