The Leadership Silver Bullet

By Mark Graybill

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

“What are you looking for?” the consultant asked the client. “I’m looking for the ultimate leadership knowledge – the ‘Silver Bullet’ of leadership training” he replied. “This was why I decided to consider a leadership consultant.”

“What issues or goals are you stuck on?” she asked.

Ignoring her, he said, “I just can’t seem to get my head around basic leadership.”

“Why do you feel this way?”

“I’ve attended every relevant training under the sun. I have a master’s degree in organizational leadership, and that was after dissatisfaction with all the expensive training I received from Dale Carnegie to Crucial Conversations, from Myers-Briggs to CPI, and Situational Leadership to the Speed of Trust.”


“I’ve read it seems a hundred books – you know, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, Make It So, Leadership and Self-Deception, and everything was written by John Maxwell. I’ve even looked into new sources from CrossKnowledge to the Neuroleadership Institute.

And I’m here to tell you that I cannot seem to get my head around this thing called leadership enough to reach my organization’s goals.”

“Tell me about those goals,” she asked. At this point, she has a pretty good idea of where the conversation is going.

“Performance, morale, and attrition,” he blurted out in visible frustration.

“I see,” she said, nodding her head. “It sounds like you need to get dirty.”

“What do you mean I need to get dirty?” he asked in apprehension.

“Are you leading from the stage?” she asked.

“I’m not following.”

“Your company makes software, correct?” she asked.


“And you started as a developer, so you know the industry.”

“Yes, again.”

“Were there things you learned in the real world they didn’t teach you in college?” she asked.


“My guess is all of those things you learned had a people component to them, am I right?”

“Well, I hadn’t thought of it before, but… ‘Yes’.”


Success in leadership is along a similar vein. The fundamental subject matter of leadership is people. In order to lead people, you need a real-world understanding of the nature of people – and I’m not referring to some blind-man-and-the-elephant theories or those that are self-evidencing and self-fulfilling.”

He didn’t say anything, but his look said, “still not following.”

“We’re in Redmond right now, and say you want warmer weather. You learn it gets warmer as you travel south, so you begin your journey south. You discover the theory fails as your southward travels take you over Mount Rainier even though it is south.”

“Or say you’re in Phoenix and want a colder climate, so you move north to Minneapolis. But you move during the summer, and it feels hotter than Phoenix even though it’s 20 degrees cooler. Do you follow?”

“Starting to.” He squinted at her and said, “Please continue.”

“The fundamental reason why we feel hot or cold is we are not losing or generating heat quickly enough. We can tolerate a hotter climate when it’s dry, provided you’re covered and stay hydrated because the air is anhydrous. It sucks the sweat from our bodies before we feel it on our skin. That evaporation quickly carries excess body heat away from our bodies. Minnesota summers are far more humid so body heat doesn’t dissipate as quickly.”

“Okay, but what does this have to do with leadership and getting dirty?”

“Good question,” she said, “and the full answer is a time-consuming process. If you hire me, you’ll experience it.” She winked and then said, “But I can give you a meaningful overview now.”


“Important knowledge about climate, elevation, and such things as heat index explains deviations from the theory. Without such knowledge, you won’t understand the deviations,” she explained.

“So I’m lacking some fundamental knowledge about people?” he asked.

“It would appear so, yes. When human beings get together, we are biologically enthralled by the social context. We call it social instinct. It isn’t predetermined behavior but rather behavior that ensues toward meeting fundamental goals and objectives wired into us. These goals and objectives are largely outdated, but they were critical to survival a couple hundred thousand years ago.”

She took a sip of water, looked at him, and lowered the glass into her lap. She looked down at the water and said, “A deeper detail behind feeling hot or cold lies in the specific heat of the water.”

She then looked up and said, “The more we know about the fundamental nature of people and how we tend to operate in social situations, the better equipped we are to be successful at leading.”

“Okay, I got that. Dirty?”

“Learning the fundamentals of human nature – our nature, and getting to know our own flaws in such regard should be every leader’s main objective.” She paused for a moment and then continued.

“The biggest part of this involves how we invoke or provoke social instinct in others that result in desirable or undesirable behavior. The former, learning the truth about ourselves, can be difficult, embarrassing, and unnerving. It’s dirty.”

Leading from the Stage

“The latter involves climbing off the stage and getting to know your people and how they are with their people. It takes time and patience, sincerity, and being secure about ourselves. It takes a genuine interest in their well-being. We actually connect with them. Such is ‘dirty’, uncomfortable – and is often why many leaders prefer leading from the stage.”

“What do you mean leading from the stage?”

“The stage is sterile and safe. It can be the actual stage, its electronic equivalent, and also figurative. Avoiding the uncertainty of interpersonal connections, talking the talk but not walking the walk – and generally playing politician is leading from the stage.”

“All that training you got is also sterile and safe. Learning about your people and learning your flaws and, most importantly, the flaws they see in you – and doing something about them is climbing off the stage and getting dirty.”

“I think I got it. So tell me more about social instinct,” he said anxiously.

“That, my dear client, is what I do for a living,” she replied.

The client hired the consultant, and toward the end of the mentoring block, it clicked for him. He understood, and he discovered she was right. He had to leave the stage and get dirty. It wasn’t easy for him even though the concepts were simple and the work was light. But once he had the fundamentals, it was so much easier to know what and when to apply the knowledge he already had.

The interesting twist is that he had to change, and his change improved his life everywhere he had a relationship with another human being. It was at this point that he realized he had acquired the Leadership Silver Bullet.

Related Article

How Do You Acquire the Leadership Silver Bullet?

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Mark Graybill
Mark Graybill
Mark has a Master’s in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and is a management consultant, a leadership instructor for the Air Force Reserves, and a Ph.D. student of Psychology specializing in Social Cognition and Instruction.
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