Andy Grove was the CEO of Intel during its meteoric rise to the top of the semiconductor industry. Whatever device you’re reading this on, there’s a good chance there’s an Intel chip inside, and Andy Grove’s leadership is a big reason why.
Grove was an extremely competent, hard-working, and impressive person. In 1956, at age 20, he fled communist rule in his native Hungary, arriving penniless in the States. A few years later, he’d earned a PhD in Chemical Engineering from UC Berkeley. He was the third employee at Intel and eventually became the CEO, where his methodical, detail-oriented approach to management brought the company success upon success and earned him the admiration of his employees and his peers. Grove passed away in 2016, an icon of 20th century business. If there’s such a thing as a born leader, surely Andy Grove was one.
That’s why I was so surprised to come across the following leadership advice from Grove in Bob Sutton’s excellent book Good Boss, Bad Boss:
So you have to keep your own spirits up even though you well understand that you don't know what you're doing. . . . Part of it is self-deception and part of it is deception. And the deception becomes reality. It is deception in the sense that you pump yourself up and put a better face on things than you start off feeling. But after a while, if you act confident you become more confident. So the deception becomes less of a deception.
For all of us who lead, this is both sound and reassuring advice. Leadership involves tough choices and a heavy dose of uncertainty. Yet great leaders (like Andy Grove) frequently seem so sure—like they know exactly what they’re doing nearly all the time.
As Grove admits, they often don’t know what they’re doing. And we don’t need to either. But we do need to take active steps to keep our spirits up, to give ourselves a pep talk from time to time. Managing morale is a big part of leadership, and as leaders, we might as well start with our own.