Are you flying too close to the sun?

Friday 19th February, 2016

Sure, there are numerous benefits to being in close proximity to power, just don’t get so close that you become part of the collateral damage when the power base implodes.

In ancient Greek mythology, Icarus’s father gifts him with some ‘homemade’ wings of feathers and wax. The father warns Icarus against complacency, hubris and – given the well-known effect of heat on wax – flying too close to the sun. Needless to say, Icarus, loving the exhilaration of flying, did not listen to wise old dad. He flies too close to the sun, his wings melt, Icarus falls into the sea and drowns. Not a great outcome for Icarus.

Fast forward to now and the same outcome can be seen in business and politics. Yes, proximity to power is intoxicating. All the conferred authority, reflected glory (a.k.a. hubris), fringe benefits and career options are great. placeholder But what happens when you are seen as part of the inner circle and the nucleus implodes? We have all observed the careers that have become collateral damage when the ‘right hand person’ ties their destiny too closely to the faltering leader/mentor - just ask the ‘close associates’ of our last three Prime Ministers.

When the CEO goes, how many in the executive leadership team get to stay? Icarus was young and excitable and he paid the price. Make sure you heed the lessons of organisational history.

So, how do you know you are flying too close to the ‘sun’?

1. You have ‘followed the leader’ to more than three organisations – the operative word here is ‘followed’. It doesn’t count if you have made the moves together as talent imports

2. You no longer think of your career without the word ‘we’. When this happens, you will start to doubt your own abilities and believe that your future success is intrinsically linked to that of your leader’s

3. When people unconsciously start addressing both of you as one unit in meetings

Think you might get burnt? What you can do about it:

1. Establish and maintain your personal brand – work on being seen as a critical talent in your own right. Start to affirm this to yourself by listing your core strengths and skills

2. Take control. Plan your own ‘solo’ next steps – there are options out there for the (singular) you

3. Find and work with another mentor/leader who can give you a broader perspective/reality check

And finally, like for everthing else in life, find some balance. Getting close to the boss is great, just not too close.


Gareth Jones is an Executive Director and co-founder of Evolve Intelligence. The firm is a leading talent and corporate intelligence firm focussed on succession management, competitor intelligence (including talent benchmarking), talent solutions and board services.