“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” C.S. Lewis
I will never forget the one time I was talking to a young professional about his work. He seemed to be doing quite well for himself and his family… constant promotions, a strong job title, a pretty new house, the whole nine yards- admirable given that the economy was so unstable when he got his jumpstart in the business world. I asked him how the new job was going and his response was less than savory. With a handful of expletives, he told me how much he hated his work. Why? Because his superiors would never admit that he was right about certain business moves until it was too late and he was always right – and quite vocal about it. I am pretty sure my mouth hit the floor. All that came out was, “Whoa.”
Have you ever worked with someone like that? Or worse, have you ever worked for someone like that?
Now, as I sit here typing this, I would like to note that I am certainly not wearing a halo, holding a baby lamb, or doing anything else that might suggest innocence. I too have a bad habit of liking to be right. In fact, I love it; but the truth is, if I hope to one day become a successful leader, being right all the time or having all the answers is simply not enough anymore. Successful leadership is not just a one-man-show. As we move away from an era of “command and control” and towards a new age of collaboration, humility is quickly making a name for itself as one of the major keys to the leadership kingdom.
For whatever reason, this idea of humility is one that, up to now, American culture and academia have shied away from when developing leaders. Why? To set the record straight, humility does not mean timidity or weakness. In contrast, it signifies modesty and a move away from self-celebration. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins describes that today’s most successful leaders, what he refers to as level five leaders, actually “embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will.” These leaders have an insatiable drive to produce tangible results and to succeed… for their organization as a collective whole, not for themselves. They typically choose to not publicize their moves or achievements and instead act with “quiet and calm determination.” Collins describes that when things go great, level five leaders look “out the window,” giving credit to those around them, and when they aren’t so great they look “in the mirror” and consider how they can change themselves in order to change the situation. He fills up twenty-three entire pages of this book just with examples throughout history of how leaders who did it right were able to mange that paradox and what it meant for their companies or organizations. I think my mouth hit the floor as I read. I thought, “WHOA!”
While that sounds awesome, I would guess that most people don’t just wake up one day as level five leaders. Like most things, becoming a great leader requires time, hard work, and a sincere desire to change. Being humble is a good thing. Likewise, being right can also be a good thing. Managing the two in congruence? Now, that is a great thing.
Think about it. How would you like to work with someone who could do that? Someone bold and fierce yet modest and selfless? More importantly, how would you like to work for someone like that?
Now let’s take it one step further… how would you like to be someone like that?