Magicians Siegfried & Roy mesmerized audiences for decades with their white tigers and lions. By the time a tragic accident involving Roy and one of the tigers ended the production’s long run, 50 million fans had enjoyed the duo’s performances rich with gripping illusions and death defying acts.
In addition to nightly shows, the pair gave private exhibitions to leaders from around the globe, offering glimpses into how they trained and performed with their big cats. Leaders would ask the performers a myriad of questions, including how they overcame their fear of nightly performance and of the wild animals central to their act.
Of the many questions hurled by leaders, perhaps none elicited a more insightful answer than when a corporate board director once asked what Siegfried knew about leadership that the director should also know. Siegfried, who dressed in a white suit with a white cape for his stage performances, didn’t miss a beat when he replied, “Be sure to wear the cape and never let the cape wear you.”
Translation: Be careful not to let your vanity, press clippings and ego take control of what you do and who you are. Leaders at every level can benefit from this wisdom.
Too many leaders who have attained success let the cape wear them. They do and say things that suggest they have come to believe they hold special powers and skills. Allowing the cape to wear you is an omen of bad things to come, as leaders with supercharged egos make choices that have resoundingly negative reactions and effects.
The best leaders learn to play the part, but never let the part play them. This is, in part, what it means to keep your ego in check. Capes are optional.