Helping Others Do Better Than You


It’s been sometime since the last time I reflected on leadership and people management in general, so here it is.

Anyway, I’ve been putting this topic off mainly because I feel that I have little of value to bring to the table, but I remembered the purpose of these reflections – it’s for reviewing my thoughts in retrospect.

I briefly wrote about the difference between guiding versus giving away (the answer) earlier this year and this piece is more of an elaboration of the raw ideas then.

Before jumping into it, I have to preface by saying that I’m very fortunate to have fairly amicable relationships with my colleagues (or at least; I feel so).

Leader, mentor, manager

I used to think leader, mentor and manager are all synonymous with one another. But I’m wrong.


Everyone with some responsibility should always strive to be a leader first; lead by example and help others succeed, even if it means they surpass you.

Often, a leader has to make sacrifices, sometimes unnoticed and thankless, with nothing attached to his or her name, ever.

No one will notice a well-led team – who would complain about a smooth sailing journey, with no problems or hiccups?

Maybe that’s why so few people want to be a leader – it sounds almost like an altruistic endeavour filled with uncertainties.

Uncertainties of whether you’ll succeed as a leader, whether people will remember you when they succeed, whether you can overcome the challenges that lie ahead in the fog.


On a more micro-level, 1-to-1 mentoring is what differentiates a superior in name and someone who truly nurtures.

As I’ve written before, but more aptly put by Julie Zhuo (author of Making Of A Manager):

Having all the answers is not the goal. Motivating the team to find the answers is the goal.

Julie Zhuo

A superior in name doesn’t give you the guidance necessary for you to find the answer, he or she merely instructs you to grope your way in the darkness.

Granted, it’s not an easy balance between giving enough hints to get through the maze and outright giving the map even with the shortest route traced out.


At the lowest level (compared to mentoring and leading), managing a team just means making the right decisions to help the team function properly.

Most professionals who hold managerial positions (that I’ve seen or read about) have the capabilities to maintain a team’s core functions.

But only a handful can push the team to grow and thrive – that would require mentoring and leading skills.

That’s probably why it’s so hard to find someone great to work for – inspiring leaders are hard to come by.

No one is a leader by default

I know I’m far from being a good leader myself, but I’m seeing opportunities for me to decide – should I just be a manager or step up to become a mentor or even a leader in this situation?

Every time I face colleagues, I have the power to choose – does this situation require the leader hat or just a generic manager cap will do?

As I’ve realised over the years, great leaders don’t make the best decisions 100% of the time and that’s fine, because leaders are only human.

Great leaders might sometimes default to managing people because the situation doesn’t call for a leadership-level decision or action.

But when push comes to shove, great leaders are the ones who will not hesitate to jump to the front lines to lead the pack.

Kind of reminds us of the healthcare workers who are putting their lives in danger for those in need by staying at the front lines until they fall victim to COVID-19 themselves.

Another milestone in the leadership journey

I can’t say that I’m “enlightened” but I’m definitely seeing a bigger picture than what I saw in the past, and I expect to open my eyes up to even more in the future.

Looking back at some of my past musings, both on career or leadership, I’m glad to see some maturity as the time passes, and I do hope I’ll continue to be resilient in this journey.

I’ve seen and read about too many with the potential to grow into great leaders, end up stagnating or even regressing into lower value roles because of complacency and arrogance.

Self-awareness, discipline, and tenacity are the traits required in this daunting journey that never ends even at the end of one’s career.

Only those who are in a constant practice to stay curious, humble, and playful in exploring new heights as a person will stay on the right track in this journey.

About the author

Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.


by Vance Wong


Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.