Briefings Magazine

Destination Many

A leader’s job, through it all, is to keep everyone motivated and aligned.

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By: Gary Burnison, Chief Executive Officer

When I was about 15 years old, I needed surgery on my foot because of a basketball injury. It was a minor procedure with a local anesthetic.

My dad drove me, and on the way home we stopped at the grocery store for a couple of TV dinners. Since I had a cast on my foot, I stayed in the car.

I waited and waited, but Dad still didn’t come out—I wondered what was keeping him. When I went inside, there was Dad, lying unconscious on that grocery store floor with a pool of blood next to his head.

I rode with him in the ambulance to the hospital, where I was told that he’d had a heart attack. By the time he was fully conscious and out of danger, it was nearly midnight.

The hospital told me I couldn’t stay the night. Since I didn’t have any money, I had no choice but to take the long walk home. The anesthetic had worn off and the pain was nearly unbearable.

I felt so utterly alone.

Leadership, though, is not a solo trek. It’s a shared journey—a destination of many.

As we progress along the sojourn known as 2024, we ask ourselves: Are we traveling alone?

So, let’s step back for a moment and imagine a mythical cross-country journey on foot—from New York City to Santa Monica, California. And while we are at it, think about walking solo, putting in 10 hours a day; you could conceivably make it in about 90 days.

But this cross-country trek is not a race. You’re actually traveling with—and leading—10,000 other people.

“Leadership is not a solo trek. It’s a shared journey—a destination of many.”

On that mythical journey from coast to coast, we all must ponder the enormity of leading thousands of others—emotionally and sometimes physically, from here to there. Along the way, there are life events and tragedies as well—both births and deaths. Through it all, we must keep everyone motivated and aligned—the optimist and the pessimist, the curious and the cautious, the introvert and the extrovert, and everything in between—as they leave the familiar for the unknown.

As the group moves slowly and steadily, people join and depart at different points and places. Some miss the thunderstorms in the Midwest and the wheat fields of the Great Plains. Others don’t see the Grand Canyon, or the sun rising in the Rockies. Wherever we are and whoever we lead, it’s the leader’s role to ensure that shared interest overshadows self-interest.

From place to place, season to season—the landscape will always change. But a foundational truth remains the same: It starts with us—but it’s not about us.

When we think more about the progression of those around us—their well-being, advancement, growth—that’s selflessness. It’s also symbiotic—as others flourish, so will we. This is how we transform the desire of the several into the will of the many.

So how do we get there?

Time and time again, people long to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And to get there is to experience the power of transcendence—people tapping into the potency of connection and community. It’s a force multiplier, as they unleash their discretionary energy to compete and win. The leader’s role? Don’t tell—guide. This process of discovery permeates every conversation about mission, vision, and purpose.

And when we all find that, it turns “Me” into “We”—and self-interest into selflessness. Indeed, that’s the journey—and the destination.

Coming in May: A new book from Gary Burnison: Love, Hope & Leadership: A Special Edition. Available where books are sold.


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