The Lost Virtue
"Humility leads to strength and not to weakness. It is the highest form of self-respect to admit mistakes and to make amends for them." - John J. McCloy
In my 20+ years working with hundreds of leaders, I've observed the following characteristics of the most effective leaders:
Passion for what they do
Compassion for those they serve
Sadly, far too many leaders fall short in the area of humility. With rare exceptions, most managers are so possessed with self-promotion they have little time left to serve those they are supposedly leading. This fact was reinforced recently when I asked several men and women - leaders that I respect - the question, "When you reflect on the leaders that you've worked for, how many understand and value the importance of building relationships with their followers." The answer - less than 30%!
Since the character of leaders is the destiny of organizations, we need more men and women who have the courage to stand for what's right and not compromise their souls in the name of political correctness. In their passionate search for acceptance, far too many are busy polishing their personalities at the expense of their character. In his enlightening book, How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins shares the five stages of organizational decline. His research has found that the first stage (symptom) of decline is "Hubris Born of Success." He goes on to state, "Dating back to ancient Greece, the concept of hubris is defined as excessive pride that brings down a hero, or alternatively (to paraphrase classics professor J. Rufus Fears), outrageous arrogance that inflicts suffering upon the innocent."
What's the antidote? The answer is found in the following quote from Saint Augustine:
"Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility."
To reinforce the importance of humility, Parker Palmer, in his book, Let Your Life Speak (a must read!), shares, "I love the fact that the word humus - the decayed vegetable matter that feeds the roots of plants - comes from the same root that gives rise to the word humility. It is a blessed etymology. It helps me understand that the humiliating events of my life, the events that leave "mud on my face" or that "make my name mud," may create the fertile soil in which something new can grow."
In closing, I would like to share the following article written by Leroy McCarty on the topic of humility. I encourage you to read it closely, as it has some very practical and applicable insights that will help you on your journey to leadership authenticity.
The Humble Leader
"The chief executive who knows his strengths and weaknesses as a leader is likely to be far more effective than the one who remains blind to them. He also is on the road to humility, that priceless attitude of openness to life that can help a manager absorb mistakes, failures, or personal shortcomings."
John Adair quoted by Henry O. Dorman in The Speaker's Book of Quotations (1987)
There are two profound statements in this quote. The first is about the benefits of understanding and accepting your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. The second is about the benefits of being humble.
Some people are so wrapped up in the notion that leaders are supposed to know everything that they fail to study and understand their strengths and weaknesses. They fall into the trap of trying to lead an organization in an evolving world without actually evolving themselves. They make decisions based on old knowledge, assumptions and habits. They fall into a rut and wind up repeating past mistakes and missing key opportunities.
Understanding your strengths and weaknesses creates a great opportunity to grow as an individual and as a leader. If the leader stops growing then the organization stops growing as well. Organizations with leaders who openly understand and develop their strengths and weaknesses create an environment where everyone else will do the same. As the leader grows, so grows the people and as the people grow, so grows the organization.
As you focus on your own personal development be sure to share your progress with those around you. Short of very personal issues, there is no real harm in letting people know what you view as your strengths and weaknesses. In fact, solicit others about what they view as your strengths and weaknesses. If you get the opportunity, look into a 360-degree appraisal where you get direct feedback from your manager, your peers and your direct reports. The information can be quite enlightening and become a solid foundation for your personal development plan.
You will connect at a much deeper level with your manager, peers and those that report to you. You will make them feel more comfortable about exploring their own opportunities for development. As they see you make progress, they can start to envision their own progress. The leaders of an organization set the tone for how personal development is viewed. Make yours a learning organization by creating a development friendly environment.
Humility is one of those leadership traits you do not see as frequently as you should. Humility is often perceived as a weakness when, in fact, it can be a tremendous asset. The leader who is humble rarely allows the power of their position to cloud their judgment. The leader who recognizes they are not perfect creates an environment where those around them feel comfortable making mistakes and taking chances.
What is your tendency when someone starts explaining something you think you already know? Do you interrupt to make sure they know you already know what they want to talk about? The next time this happens, try something new. Listen. Let them finish their explanation. Probe for more detail. You might be surprised and discover something you did not already know. You might walk away with more knowledge than had you interrupted them to stroke your own ego.
The humble leader assumes they do not know all the answers and allows people to explain things to them. They look for the opportunity to learn something new and they use every opportunity to make others feel valued. The humble leader knows the world around them is changing faster than they can keep up and is grateful for the opportunity to learn something new or reinforce knowledge they might already possess.
This is not to say that you need to act stupid to be humble. There is no harm in someone walking away knowing you are knowledgeable so long as the process did not leave them feeling "less than you." Sharing your wisdom is important, but must be done in a way that "lifts the other person up."
How do you do that? Simply weave your wisdom into the conversation without letting it dominate the conversation. Ask lots of questions and when they give their answer, validate them first then add your comments laden with your knowledge and guidance.
In the act of being humble, you make others feel important and valued. That is the gift of the humble leader. Focus on your humility and you will find it can lift a weight from your shoulders. It takes a lot of effort to pretend you know it all. Besides, it is more refreshing being around people with some humility. Arrogance gets old fast.
Leroy McCarty is a student, teacher, and freelance writer on the topic of leadership living in Overland Park, Kansas
A closing thought: In my quiet time under majestic Mystic Oak, the 300+ year old tree that has been the source of so much guidance and wisdom, I believe that we can learn from her two purposes - to grow and give back. If we get passionately engaged in something greater than self and commit to those simple acts of daily discipline required to improve ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spirituality, we will live a life of humility and significance.
Mystic Oak - the 300+ year old live oak that's been a continued source of inspiration. Click here for some wisdom from Mystic Oak.
Sign up to receive 70 daily doses of Byrd's powerful quotes, poems and stories. Each inspirational nugget is
40-60 seconds long and is a great way to recharge your battery. (example)
Read what leaders say about the True Growth Academy leader development experience. View Testimonials. Enroll now for the 2011 and 2012 sessions. The True Growth experience can help you discover your "why" in life.
Click on this link to discover the secret to Apple's success. You'll discover that successful people and successful organizations have discovered their "why". What's your "why"?
One Day Portable Sessions
One day, 'Exploring the Power of Authenticity' leader development program now available. Perfect session for management retreats. click here for details.
Charisma-Based Leadership Byrd's newest book on leadership (coauthored with Dr. Larry Cole) now available. If you're looking to become the leader people want to follow this book was written for you.|
97 Things to Take Your Sales|
Career to the Next Level
"This book takes my best-selling book on sales, The Book of Excellence, to the next level. The collaboration with Larry Cole was a very rewarding experience and I truly believe that your sales career will soar if you apply these practical and applicable insights. Click here for additional information and order placement."
Leadership and Self-Deception|
by The Arbinger Institute
This international best-seller is changing lives and transforming organizations. Couldn't put it down!
Byrd's newest keynote presentation connecting deeply with audiences. Testimonial - Learn More
Free Leadership Articles
7 True Growth Associates Leadership Articles. Click here.