Stealing Fire from the Gods: Becoming a GREAT Leader

In 2008, the technology Titan, Google, launched an internal company wide review to find out what made a manager GREAT! They identified eight behaviors—”being a good coach” came in at the top of that list, trumping even technical expertise. Fast forward to 2018, Google modified two of the eight behaviors and added two additional behaviors. Again, “being a good coach” came in at number one.

Today’s fast paced, highly dynamic business environment requires leaders to be forward thinking. Changes in the workforce are requiring new leadership approaches. According to Pew Research Data, as of 2017, 56 million millennials (ages 21 to 36) had entered the job market. Studies prove that millennials, who now represent the largest subset of America’s workforce, rank coaching at the top of their lists of things they expect from their employers. The days of command and control, micro-management, and rigid hierarchies are rapidly coming to an end. Forward thinking organizations have come to realize how valuable coaching can be in handling even the most diverse management challenges and have added “the ability to coach and develop others” to the skill sets they require of their managers.

I could spend the rest of this blog talking about Google’s successes—yeah, they’ve had a few failures, too; but we won’t go into that. This blog is not really about Google. It’s about the behaviors that make a leader great. In order to showcase some of these behaviors, we will need to take a quick trip back in time to Ancient Greece where we will learn about the leadership traits of another type of Titan, Prometheus. Spoiler alert: Prometheus’ name is derived from the Greek word meaning “aforethought,” while his brother’s name, Epimetheus, is derived from the Greek word meaning “afterthought.”

Prometheus and his brother, Epimetheus, were tasked with endowing gifts, specific positive traits, to Earth’s new creations. Epimetheus spent his time liberally spreading out his gifts—mainly fur and wings. Who doesn’t want fur and wings, right? He was so liberal, in fact, that by the time he got to humans, he found that he had exhausted his own little magic bag of tricks. In short, he lacked foresight. And to be honest, in his need to get the job done quickly, and a few of his other haphazard endeavors, he ended up being labeled, by the Greek people, not me, the father of excuses and a fool.

Feeling sorry for humankind’s naked state, Prometheus raided the workshop of Hephaistos and Athena on Mount Olympus and stole fire from the gods. Putting the needs of humanity first, he hid the fire in a fennel stalk, bid farewell to the celestial realms, and brought this valuable gift to the men and women of Earth. Being the forward thinker that he was, Prometheus knew that the humans would need help to utilize this gift to its fullest, so he stayed with them and taught them all the ways they could use fire to better their lives. Thus, the skill of metal work began. This in turn, helped the humans to develop scientific skills. Cultures were born. Beautiful art and music were created. You would have thought this would have made the numero uno sky god Zeus happy, right? Well, not so much.

Zeus, being the original command and control micro-manager, did not want his hierarchical power and authority usurped for any reason, let alone to help humans, so he set about making   Prometheus’ life a literal hell on earth. I won’t get into the various twists and turns involving Hercules, Hephaistos, and Pandora. Needless to say, however, Zeus’s anger took many different avenues—all resulting in revenge. Prometheus ended up earthbound, chained to a rock. Every day a very large eagle, Zeus’s emblem, came down and tore open his liver. Every night the wound would heal. I can definitely relate to poor Prometheus. There have been days when I felt like I was chained to a rock and was having my liver eaten out. I have dealt with quite a few Zeus’ in my time. How about you? Come on now, be honest.  As for humanity, well, Zeus’s jealousy, anger, and need for revenge resulted in Pandora’s box which was full of toil, illness, war, and death. In the end, his actions only made things worse for humanity.

So, what does this have to do with being a leader, you might ask. Well, first and foremost, do not act like Zeus. Just saying. Don’t ever be jealous of the successes of your people. A true servant-leader always puts the needs of their people above their own. Remember that eagle that came down and ate Prometheus’ liver? Zeus used fear to ensure that everyone knew who was in charge—thereby hoping to prevent another “usurper” from defying him. True leaders do not mark projects as their own—nor do they use fear to motivate their people. True servant-leaders realize that there is no “I” in team. The team stands or falls as a unit, not on an individual basis. Knowing this, the true servant-leader always strives to use every opportunity to positively impact their people.

A leader must also be a forward thinker. They must possess the ability to look at their people and know what each one needs to succeed. But a leader has to go a step further. Like Prometheus, a true servant-leader must not only help their people define their skills, they must also listen, observe, and coach them to get better. A true servant-leader needs to know their people well enough to know what excites them. They also need to know what bores them and makes them feel apathetic and indifferent. With this knowledge, the true servant-leader can use their skills to stoke the fire within each and every one of their people.

In so doing, the leader may find themselves in conflict with their own leaders. Unrealistic expectations and fear of failure translate into micro-management and over work. This type of cookie cutter mentality not only leaves people feeling anxious and less creative, but it also drains them of the very fire they need to succeed—thereby calling the success of the project into question.

Again, and I cannot say this often enough, being a leader, a real servant-leader, means taking care of your people first; that means protecting them and providing them with whatever they need to do a great job. Be forewarned, sometimes this will require you to stand up to your own leaders and tell them the hard truth. No one said this would be easy! But, yet, it must be done. Thankfully, no one is going to chain you to a rock and have your liver eaten out—true, you may feel like it, but . . . .

In the end, true leadership is a mission, not a job. Your mission is to give fire to your people. To put them first—because in the end, if you do, they will succeed and so will you and so will your projects. I would encourage you all to be a Prometheus. To have the courage to do what you know in your heart is right.

I would also encourage you to ask yourself: “What type of leader am I? Am I willing to lay it all on the line for my people? What am I willing to sacrifice to help my teams? And finally, what can I do to become a better leader?”

Remember, Prometheus’ name means “aforethought.” Epimetheus’ name means “afterthought.” Prometheus thought of humankind first. Epimetheus did not. Prometheus may have gotten his liver eaten out, but he was never labeled an excuse maker and a fool. Think about it. Then go out and do what you know in your heart you must do.

The mission of my company is to motivate, inspire, and empower individuals and organizations to grow and evolve into their best possible selves.  If you are interested in a free coaching session, visit to schedule an appointment.

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