Growing up, Sunday afternoons were split equally visiting both sets of grandparents. While closest to my maternal grandmother, it was my paternal grandmother who taught me about the power of storytelling. As I recall this precious time, my mind flashes back to the many priceless stories I learned about not just family – but life. Her many accounts kept me completely captivated and were woven just as intricately as the tapestry pattern on the old sofa where I was seated for unexpected life lessons.
One Sunday afternoon, Grandmother was telling us about an adventure involving one of our most lively family members, a Great Aunt. My Grandfather, a quiet man who seldom chimed into the revelry, brought an abrupt end to my afternoon entertainment. He summed up the saga abruptly, “That woman’s ego took her down like the Titanic.” Bam. End of story.
As a 10-year old, I got the message loud and clear. Pride is “bad”. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Be humble.
Humility as a Core Value
Some of my clients today wisely claim humility as a core value. As rapid growth organizations, it can become increasingly complicated to maintain the spirit of humility. Growth and the accompanying need for talent demands hiring from the outside, potentially attracting those who haven’t grown up in a firm with the same emphasis. The drive toward increased EBITDA in positioning for the next level of growth may often require aggressive behaviors that may leave humility on the curb.
As an organization scales, it’s important for leaders to revisit and reinforce the value of humility. What does humility really look like? Why is this a valuable trait for leaders in any organization? How do we all stay mindful of keeping a humble spirit?
At its Latin root, humility means lowliness. In the spiritual context, it means being courteously respectful of others. Other descriptions focus on how we simply see our place in the overall scheme of things. In other words, having the proper perspective about our own importance and being careful not to over inflate confidence in ourselves is an admirable way to lead.
In the book, Leading with Humility, Rob Nielsen says the overly self-confident leader is often the top down leader. And, as we know, that model is so 80’s in the world of the “what works best” playbook of leadership. However, humility does not mean being a doormat, wishy-washy or seeking others’ approval.
In her article published in Fast Company, author Gwen Moran adequately described six ways we can stay humble, and she argues that humility makes us better leaders. I’ve selected three of her suggestions highlighted below. In addition, I’ve added my own advice based on experiences that apply to the organizations and leaders I work with daily.
Be Open To Others’ Opinions – Listen. Really Listen. Then care enough about what you’re being told to respond to it. I see leaders who go through the motions of eliciting feedback because they know it’s the right thing to do, yet all the while knowing they will still stick with their own opinions and approach. Others quickly see through this facade.
Let Others Do Their Jobs – Let go! Get out of the way! You can’t control everything so stop trying. Putting yourself in this position as a leader diminishes your team members’ morale, causes resentment and sadly stunts their growth. You don’t look more important or in control by being controlling.
Admit Your Mistakes – This is the acid test of true humility. The words, “I was wrong”, “I don’t know”, and “I apologize” weigh volumes in truly walking out the value of humility.
Be humble. Don’t be like Aunt Nancy. Because we all know what happened to her.