Leaders, Are You Running After Fool’s Gold?

“All That Glitters, Is Not Gold.”

~ William Shakespeare

We’ve all heard the expression of fool’s gold.  I think that I first heard the expression when I was a kid playing in streams while camping and noticing shiny rocks in the streams and asking my father if there could be gold in the shiny rocks.  He would tell me that most of it was “fool’s gold”.   Fool’s gold is the kind of the stuff that, upon first glance, would appear as the real thing.  If you were quick to assume that the shiny speckles in the rock were gold, without having the skill, wisdom and patience to evaluate what was in front of you, then you were a fool, (or something along those lines).  A fool can’t tell the difference between that which glitters, like gold, and that which is actually gold.  A fool jumps to conclusions.  A fool is lured by what shines.  A fool might want something to be the real thing so eagerly or desperately but does not take the time to look at the details.  A fool might even notice a blemish or two but does not have the discipline or self confidence to trust his concern about the blemish. The fool may even down play the concern for fear of being wrong, indecisive, miss out on the shiny new thing.

How does this saying by Shakespeare, which originally stated, “all that glisters is not gold”, pertain to leadership?  As leaders, we have many opportunities to be fooled: to see only the sparkles and shine and not pay attention to the blemish that could indicate a serious issue.  One example where I see this challenge is when leaders are looking for talent to hire.  They see the shine of the candidate.  Maybe they see something that isn’t right in a potential hire, but downplay it, especially if the leader feels pressure or desperation to fill a position.  And so we may rush to hire someone before we’ve checked out the the shine to be real.

Perhaps we as leaders could pause and heed the advice of Jack Welsh which is “to hire more slowly, and fire more quickly.” Maybe there is a shiny a business opportunity that looks appealing.  Maybe you’ve received council from a shiny consultant or sales person that tells you what you want to hear rather than tell you the truth.  I have seen polished sales people disguised as financial advisers show shiny investment “opportunities” to people.  I’ve seen smart people make incredibly naive investment decisions because of the shiny allure of feeling special and going for the shine.  Maybe you have a new potential business relationship or client or even friend that has loads of shiny promise and you go forward without properly negotiating the new relationship. Maybe you take your best clients, employees or colleagues for granted and neglect them and the goldmine of support that they’ve offered you, in order to go for that new glittery possibility.  As humans, we don’t want to miss out on a potential opportunity so we may fall for the shine before standing back and seeing if the glowing light is just a fading flame.

Of course as a leader, you have to take risks.  Without question, consistently playing it safe is the greatest threat to your career, business, leadership and overall development in life. If we stay looking for gold in the familiar safety of the same empty stream, then we may be destined to turn up nothing but worthless rocks, both dull and shiny.  Self discovery as well as creating new opportunities does require exploration of the unknown and leaving the familiar at times.

This search for gold has an opposing end of the polarity gold quest. Our desire for perfection (or at least avoidance of failure) can sometimes paralyze us into believing that nothing is ever gold and we delay opportunities until they fade away.  The engineer in me can sometimes allow my fear of the new find fault and problems in fresh opportunities and get stuck into analysis paralysis.

I am not suggesting that we ignore all that shines. Nor am I suggesting that you become skeptical of anything that has a glister appeal.  I am asking you to pay attention to your own gold and what it looks like to you.  Identify it. Look for it. Manifest it. Get it.  And then, show it off.  Share your gold and make the world better a better place.

Thank you for reading and sharing this article.  I welcome your thoughts, ideas and comments in the below comments section.

Your coach, fan and friend,


Larysa Slobodian

Principal Consultant

L4 Leadership LLC


  1. Lisa July 14, 2015 at 5:45 pm #

    I have been known to see the glass as “half empty” or to find the problem first, in any situation. I am definitely so afraid of fool’s gold that I have overlooked many opportunities. Thank you for the reminder to take time to assess, and to celebrate my own gold. Perhaps it is spending the time to scratch the surface that I fear/avoid most. I will pay attention to the shine, but then delve deeper. I will even look for the shine, before seeing the gray. Then I can cherish and show off my gold.

  2. Boomer's Buddy July 14, 2015 at 10:32 pm #

    Thank you for writing and sharing Larysa…

    i will take a tangent to broaden the discussion.

    We get fooled into believing something is our ‘intuition’ and secondly that our intuitions are right and don’t have flaws. (This isn’t about the need of intuition – it is obviously needed for efficient processing – rather the pitfalls lie in not challenging our intuitions and the flaws that exist.) The reality is that our ‘conscious mind’ is pretty lazy – it is (understandably) seeking efficiencies and avoiding any effort that burns up CPU cycles. Easy answers, easy beliefs, black and white worlds, simple models that inform our worldview – are understandable – they require less effort – it is a form of slavish adoption of a dogma or parroting worn out platitudes. Deeply examining the messiness, grayness and complexities that make up experiences, living intentionally, challenging closely held and ‘easy’ beliefs, being aware as an all seeing impartial witness is really hard. Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman points out (in his book Thinking Fast and Slow), “you will often find that knowing little makes it easier to fit everything you know into a coherent pattern. The result of this is that we are (paradoxically) often more intuitively convinced of something the less information we have access to.” You can easily apply this to various scenarios and explore the conclusions — hearing one side of an argument, strong affiliation to particular dogma, group-oriented sentiments, stereotypes, biases, discriminations… There are numerous studies (and books) in behavioral economics that get to the heart of the fallacies and flaws of relying on ‘intuition’, our overconfidence in thinking that we have an objective view and our beliefs.

  3. Steve July 15, 2015 at 11:54 am #

    Awesome article Larysa. Thank you for writing. Great quote about hiring and firing. Definitely agree on that point.

  4. Larysa Slobodian July 15, 2015 at 4:11 pm #

    Thank you Lisa, Boomer’s Buddy and Steve for your comments. I appreciate you reading my articles and for your thoughts. Your thoughts and personal comments inspire me to keep on writing.

    Larysa Slobodian
  5. Pam in Portland July 16, 2015 at 9:51 am #

    I love the paradox of it all… that you have to carefully and slowly examine what is gold in order to take a leap into what is right. It is hard to take the time and care to do that. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. Larysa Slobodian July 16, 2015 at 3:48 pm #

    It is quite the paradox Pam. Thank you for reading and for your comment. Hope life in Portland is awesome.

    Larysa Slobodian
  7. Peter Rogers July 17, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

    One needs to slow down as risk/stakes increase. Many people make decisions with insufficient due diligence and reflection outside of their engrained mental models. In today’s faster and faster paced world the tendency to speed up decision making can lead to unwanted consequences. The exceptions, of course, are when stakes are low or one is prototyping/’failing fast’.

    Thank you, Larysa, for writing a stimulating article that evoked further thought!

  8. Larysa Slobodian July 17, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    Thank you for the invitation to slow down Peter. We are a product of our decisions and taking the right time with high stakes decisions is great counsel. Thank you Peter!

    Larysa Slobodian

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