Be the Leader Others Admire
During my career in corporate sales and consulting, I’ve worked with some outstanding senior leaders and a few that were not entirely enjoyable.
Those that created a more positive experience showed up fully present, listening with an open mind, sharing credit for work well done, pushing decision making down, setting clear goals, and providing useful feedback.
They were able to communicate an inspiring vision and a solid supporting strategy. Trust amongst their functional leaders was robust and team members cared about each other. Ideas flowed freely, and decisions were made quickly and effectively.
The less effective leaders drew too much attention to themselves. They didn’t listen to opposing points of view with curiosity. They kept decision making in the hands of very few. They blamed others when faced with defeat and created an atmosphere where speaking up was stifled with fear of retaliation.
They displayed behaviors of arrogance, and “it’s all about me.” At it’s very worst, I have seen weak leadership manifest as arrogance and narcissism. Those behaviors create particular insidious problems: cultures of fear, higher turnover, less productivity, in-authenticity, hypocrisy, gossip, and isolation.
People led by arrogant leaders feel unsafe. They’re not sure what will happen next or who will be on the chopping block tomorrow. They watch what happens to those that disagree with the prevailing belief system of the CEO or senior leader, and they quickly learn that not speaking up is the safer way to go. Good ideas go unspoken. Innovation and creativity get stifled.
Superficially things might look good, but they are indeed not.
The Power of Humility
While there are many differences between effective and ineffective leadership behavior, it’s the underlying mindset that makes the difference. In my experience, there is one specific way of thinking that creates strong leadership: a curious mindset, a spirit of humility.
Jim Collins wrote about this years ago in his classic book, “Good to Great.” According to him, great leaders display humility coupled with ego drive. Amy Cuddy, in her book “Presence,” writes about the importance of warmth and competence. Both are necessary; she argues to be successful, but without warmth, no one cares how competent someone is.
Arrogance does not generate warmth. Warmth comes from the heart and a mindset of humility.
Humility comes from the Latin word “humilitas” and means low or from the earth. Humility enables a leader to live with a sense of curiosity and openness that fuels a deep commitment to learning and a thirst to be present and aware. Humility embraces the attitude, “The way that I see the world is simply the way that I see it.” It respects that others may see the world very differently.
Humility is not synonymous with weakness but is rooted in intrinsic self-worth and strength. The mindset of humility has opinions and expresses them fully. However, instead of presenting them as facts, the mindset of humility mindset wholly owns its views and represents them as such. “My perspective on the situation is this…What do you think?” This approach is confident and direct and invites dialogue and learning.
Skills That Effective Leaders Use
1. They distinguish between opinions and facts, by using phrases such as: “In my view” or “The way that I see this…” rather than saying “That approach will never work, or that’s a stupid idea.”
2. They expose their views (even if incomplete) and are open to challenges from others: “I am thinking out loud here…” or “I haven’t figured this out completely yet…”
3. They listen to others’ thoughts and opinions, genuinely trying to understand why they think, act, or feel like they do. “I am curious to understand why…” or “Why do you say this?”
4. They practice using the principle of three goals in every conversation:
- Inquiring into the other person’s story
- Speaking their truth
- Mutually resolving any differences
5. They realize every story is incomplete from only one perspective. They ask: “What don’t I know?” or “What might I be missing?
Embracing a mindset of humility will not only help you be proud of your behavior at the end of every day. It will help you be the leader that others admire.