How might adding more humility into your leadership style add to your success? What do you think you can learn from leaders that have gone from “good to great”?
I have seen humility defined as the act or posture of lowering oneself in relation to others; of preferring not to draw attention to oneself; to display modesty in the positions one takes. That isn’t necessarily what we associate with the quintessential celebrity style, extravert and charismatic leadership type, is it?
So are leadership and humility oxymoron’s?
Does Pushiness Imply Leadership?
We have all experienced the typical “Type-A” personality, also known as the “high-D” or the choleric personality; the individual that has to lead from the front, always be seen leading and preferring to tell and give directions, often with low levels of sensitivity towards others, haven’t we? They are sure impressive individuals, but they can also “get too much”, can’t they? Particularly if they couple such behaviour and strength of presence with an overly defined ego that can’t seem to get enough attention. But are they necessarily great leaders?
Those of you reading this and that know you fit into this personality type shouldn’t feel judged here. This rather stereotype picture that is being presented is perhaps a little exaggerated in order to make a point, however it does contain significant truth and hence relevance to this topic today.
Why? Because I am wanting to acknowledge the value of the opposite approach and behaviour.
From my decades of working in corporate environments and subsequently from coaching and mentoring hundreds of clients, it has become my opinion that it is quite rare in business today to find true leaders that naturally empower, motivate and inspire everyone in their operation to be the best they can be for themselves, for their clients and for their company. Too often have I found in organizations where politics and personal agendas rule the day, that unhealthy ego’s and weak or overwhelmed individuals finding themselves in leadership roles they are ill equipped for, can be the primary cause. Needless to say these companies usually remain mediocre or at best good, but hardly great.
Can “Quiet” go from “Good to Great”?
I am reading two books at present, one being a re-read of Jim Collins’ age old classic: “Good to Great” and the other is Susan Cain’s “Quiet” (the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking).
In “Good to Great”, Collins’ team analyzed why 11 companies they found, consistently outperformed their competitors nearly 7-fold over 15+ years. Amongst many specifics, one common factor was the humble leadership traits they found prevalent in what they termed “level 5 leaders”. None of the CEO’s that took their companies to “great” was a charismatic, celebrity type “me-me-me” leader. In fact they were quite the opposite, even shy, attention shunning rather than attention seeking and very willing to let the others around them to take the credit for what was achieved. Collins (and Cain) strongly suggest that instead of having giant personalities that build their own egos, we need leaders such as these that build the organizations they run.
In addition it was found that the successful ones that were “great” had a very clear picture of where it needed to be and was all going and kept assuring that everyone knew what their part was in doing so and that they were empowered to deliver. These leaders had a immensely strong drive to succeed (what Collins called intense professional will), but they didn’t need to be in the limelight to achieve that success.
Who Do You Have On Your Bus?
In both books the metaphor of “having the right people on your bus” featured strongly. That was strengthened by suggesting that it was just as important to “get the wrong people off the bus” and then assuring that you have right people sitting in the right places on your bus. Sage advice indeed.
You see, what that confirmed for me from my own decades of corporate experience, was that introversion or extraversion wasn’t as important as the leaders will to “get the wrong people out”and to “get the right people in the right roles” and then to lead and empower them in their right roles to deliver the goods.
How many times in your career have you seen weak leadership abstain from arresting and dealing with poor performance, because they themselves were weak leaders? And in those cases, how often did that lead to an overall drop in commitment of the others witnessing that ambivalence? It’s quite prevalent isn’t it? Like a cancer, it can spread through and affect the entire team or organization. Very quickly.
Recognizing and Harnessing Strengths
What I have learned from all my own leading, reading, coaching and mentoring is how alongside core competencies, how important the recognition of personal strengths, personality and leadership style is. And that learning has recognized that neither introvert nor extravert (or ambivert as I have heard the “middle road” called) is right or wrong or good or bad or better or worse.
It is the harnessing of these recognized strengths and preferences in a manner that acknowledges that others can be different, and leveraging each’s strengths in situations that best use those strengths that matters. Not everyone is equipped or willing to lead from the front. Because someone lacks charisma or a need for significance that has them always needing to be seen and heard, doesn’t mean they can’t be a good leader. I am known to favour the more quiet, humble approach as I describe in my blog “Leading From Behind”.
Ego And The Will To Drive Purpose With Humility
And in this context it is also important to differentiate between strength of will to drive a purpose from ego. I have learned that you don’t need a strong ego to strongly drive a purpose. In fact, ego can often get in the way of that. Why? Because ego is often more enamoured with promoting the visibility and need for significance of the individual than it is necessarily with driving the intended outcome. We have all experienced how the overly pronounced ego of a leading individual can be the undoing of some great outcomes, haven’t we? And how many great companies were taken to the wall as a result? Or how many potentially great companies were only able to be “good” instead of great?
This just proves that designating someone into a leadership role doesn’t make them a leader. They have to “take leadership” and make it happen. And they best do so within the law of requisite variety which suggests that the person or system displaying the greatest diversity of approaches and techniques will always prevail. And that includes having the fortitude to know when to lead from the front or lead from behind. Most overly pronounced ego’s can but often don’t see that.
Ego And Humility
However, I have seen many strong leaders with very strong egos that have learned how to be humble nonetheless. And my experience with these players is that they are not only better loved by their peers and subordinates but that they also consistently create more “great” outcomes.
Let me qualify “better loved”. That doesn’t mean everyone has to “like you” to follow you. But such leaders inspire and motivate their charges to want to follow and so they usually feel empowered to lead their own parts with great enthusiasm. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team. Everyone wants to follow someone or something that is going somewhere. Most want to contribute towards that. Everyone wants their contribution and results to be recognized. Everybody. A good leader knows that and has the humility to bestow that recognition onto those they lead, rather than to insist on having to gain all the accolades themselves.
Those pre-occupied with their own importance (ego driven) will struggle with that. And in today’s competitive market where consistently successful businesses usually work with “the best people”, such blatant ego based (leadership) behaviour is not often tolerated for long; by the staff, by the peers, by the Board, by the partners and by the client base.
So where do you stand on the spectrum of ego driven, always leading from the front versus leading with humility? What if I were to ask those around you? What might they tell you? Could there be some epiphanies if I did? And if so, would you be willing to do something about it?
Organizations frequently task me to work with leaders or professionals with overly pronounced egos and consequently behaviour and leadership styles that just aren’t working. My soft skills grooming, coupled with often first establishing what the cause of such overly recognition prone behaviour might be, has resulted in some very significant behaviour changes and life (and business) changing outcomes.
I have found it remarkable how many such leaders I have known and been associated with for over a long period of time are now seeking me out to help them “tone down” their pronounced ego based behaviour (including arrogance) and develop a more humble and engaging style of leadership.
I am associated with The Centre for Creative Leadership, an organization that originated the 360° leadership behaviour review process. In an environment that has carefully managed the assurance of anonymity, a leader will rate themselves across a range of leadership behaviour attributes (usually over 100) and have their boss(es), a cross section of peers, subordinates and even external vendors or customers do the same. The resultant reports usually give excellent, objective insights into strengths, weaknesses and “blind spots” which, professionally debriefed can add tremendous value to improving leadership outcomes.
So if you are wondering how the people working around you might view your leadership, my experience has been that finding and working with the right coach will more often than not help you learn how to be held personally accountable to make those changes.
Coupled with such proven tools and processes mentioned above, this may well be a life changing exercise and often a humbling experience, but one I wholeheartedly recommend – if you are willing to submit yourself to such insights and then such learnings.
This is one of those fork in the road situations we all encounter at some point in our careers, where we have to ask the price versus prize question and then remind ourselves of the 11th commandment: (you can BS anyone you like, but you can never BS yourself).
So if this has struck a chord with you, and you have realized “it’s time”, what have you got to lose? Go on, contact me for a free one hour exploratory conversation and Let’s Talk Coaching.
If you are interested in additional angles of such leadership style issues, you may also want to read or listen to my blogs:
- Leading from behind
- Ego versus Outcomes
- Power over ourselves and others
- Leaders serve
- Recognition and the place for criticism and praise
- The price and the prize