Some advice fit for a king

I had the wonderful pleasure as the chair of the spouses of the National Governors Association to bring in my friend and mentor, Ronald Heifetz, who teaches leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  I asked a few of the spouses what ideas from his speech they were going to share with their spouses.  Many said they were going to talk about his story about “the king.”  So, I’ll do my best to recite it here.
At a speech at the Kennedy School the young King Abdullah II of Jordan, who succeeded his father King Hussein in 1999 was asked by a mirthful student during Q & A: “Hey, what’s it like to be a king?”  King Abdullah answered that he had never expected to be king; he thought his uncle would succeed his father.  But as his father grew ill he told his son his intention.  And he gave the younger this advice: at the moment that you think you are king, you’re lost.  Heifetz takes from this the idea that those in authority – whether governor, first spouse, boss, teacher, or parent – would be wise to distinguish between their role and their self.  You are not the king, governor, principal, etc.  You are Joe, Mary, Bill who happens to be playing that role.
One might think that this is the point of the distinction:  be humble!  And there is something useful to that simple insight.  But Heifetz offers a more subtle and much more interesting implication.  He begins with this assumption:  much of the hard work that needs to be done can’t be done by the leader.  The leader-parent can’t grow up for the kid.  The coach can’t play for the team.  The CEO doesn’t assemble the car or sell it to a customer.  The lawyer can’t run the client’s business.  But, Heifetz says, at some profound but hidden level, people want “the king” to take care of all their problems.  And many of us who lead really want to solve all their problems!  We care about them, and we care about the work.  So there is a dangerous (largely unconscious) nexus:  they want you to solve their problems (or blame you if you can’t), and you want be the great and wise parent, boss, mayor, king!  So, they help make you think that you’re more than just your self — that you are your role.
So, if we think we are our role, we may lose our humility and think we have power, knowledge, or rights we really don’t.  And perhaps worse, we get tricked into failing to do the most important thing we need to do:  give the work back to the people who need to do it!  How much over-protecting are you doing to be the king of your family, team, or organization?  You’ve got to realize – and help them realize – that you’re not the king, if you’re going to:
Lead with your best self,