On the Shoulders of Giants
In a letter to Robert Hooke, Sir Isaac Newton used this expression with respect to his own accomplishments: “If I have seen further, it is only because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.”
This phrase in its earliest known form was attributed to Bernard of Chartres who would say that “we [the Moderns] are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants [the Ancients], and thus we are able to see more and farther than the latter. And this is not at all because of the acuteness of our sight or the stature of our body, but because we are carried aloft and elevated by the magnitude of the giants”. (Bernard of Chartres, by John Salisbury).
When questioning what draws and keeps young and talented people in organizations, I frequently hear that it is because someone believed they would and could do great things. Giving those around and below us a compelling belief in what they can do and the support to do it make us the giants that build great leadership.
When we intentionally invest time in those we work with to listen and mentor through struggles and achievements—to encourage, to advocate, to champion and to recognize attributes, we serve as those giants. Demonstrating that we care about others is done often and well by those with wisdom, strong character, and deep humility. It is on these shoulders that others want to stand. Caring behaviors draw others into our world and help them gain the vision and perspectives needed to bring their best energy to the goals and tasks ahead. This is a vital and selfless leadership behavior not to be made light of or casually delegated to others as unimportant.
If we don’t invest time in knowing the needs, values, and passions of those we lead, we by omission invalidate their worth. If too much ego or too little discipline prevents us from showing we care about those with whom we work, we are taking up room where giants are needed. I challenge us all to be those whose shoulders lift others up to see more, and to be all they can be.