Leaders Are Humble
OK, this may seem counterintuitive. After all, aren’t leaders supposed to be self-confident, ready for action, and always sure of exactly what they want? According to today’s pop culture, a BIG EGO seems like quality number one for a great leader. Of course let me ask: how many of today’s leaders would you actually follow?
Today is the last article in a series we have been going through on the true characteristics of leadership. So far we have talked about how (1) they lead by example, (2) they teach and inspire, (3) they hold others accountable, (4) they look for ways to improve the world around them, (5) they speak the hard truth, and, today, we are talking about the 6th and final characteristic of leadership on our list: leaders are humble.
I still vividly remember one of my jobs before starting my first website design business, Common Sense Development. My boss would walk into the office everyday like he owned the place. OK, so he was the owner of the business, but we were renting the office space. What I really mean is that for a man of fairly small stature, he walked around with an ego 10 feet high (and that was at least 4.5 feet taller than he really was). Unfortunately, only a few months after I started working for this man’s company, it went belly up. It was almost like the overnight success he had achieved turned into failure by that afternoon.
So what went wrong? The company was seemingly fast-tracked to the top. We had clients paying us a hundred thousand dollars each for our services. We had world class employees recruited from companies like Disney and Pixar. The problem was the leader’s ego was so big that he could never be wrong. He had the best help money could buy, but wanted to run every aspect of the business. Every success was 100% his and every failure was 100% his employees fault. Disagreeing or offering advice that differed from the leader’s opinion meant being fired. Amazing talent was leashed and relegated to being yes-men (and women) whose only real purpose was to make the leader look good and feel good about himself. Bottomline, we all left or were let go, and he was finally able to run the show himself, but there was no one to actually get the work done. Soon after, clients left and the business silently died.
At the end of the day, I have to say that was the best, worst job I have ever had. It was a lot of fun for a while (a couple weeks), but even after that, it taught me a lot and, in part, made me who I am today. For one, it gave me the courage (along with a little bit of motivating anger) to launch my own competing firm which, years later, still operates. But it taught me more than that. It taught me that there was a lot more to leadership than what one could muster up within themselves. It showed me that a huge part of leadership was being humble enough to recognize that I don’t have all the answers and smart enough to go out, find, and rely on people that can fill in my weaknesses.
If there is one thing that we have learned through this whole series (at least for me, as I wrote it), it is that the modern concept of a leader is so very much confused with celebrity. There is no room for the quiet, humble, and thoughtful leader, who leads with a clear direction but is willing to step back and let their people do what they do best. Being a leader does not always mean you get to be in the limelight. In fact, I would argue that some of the best leaders stay virtually anonymous to the world.
For these anonymous leaders, it is not about the glory. It is about the impact that they can make. It is about the work that they are doing. It’s not about recognition: it is about changing the lives around them, improving their community, businesses, churches, and other organizations. True leadership is not about oneself. It is about being humble enough to lift others up so that they can shine.