This is an excerpt from The Simple Leader: Personal and Professional Leadership at the Nexus of Lean and Zen
Remain humble. Don’t worry about who receives the credit. Never let power or authority go to your head.
– Dick Winters, Beyond Band of Brothers
About fifteen years into my career, I thought of myself as a strong manager. I had progressed up the ranks and was responsible for an entire telecom equipment manufacturing facility, leveraging Lean with a great group of people.
Arrogance and ego have ruined many a leader. Unfortunately, these characteristics are still accepted today, although they shouldn’t be. If your goal is to optimize the value of your people, thereby improving the value of your organization, then you need to support and nurture them. You have to admit that you cannot know or control everything that happens and be humble enough to trust others to do their jobs.
Humility means accepting that you’re human and that you have faults, vulnerabilities, and worries like everyone else. Humble leaders are actually more confident than ego-driven leaders, as they are secure enough to show and admit their vulnerabilities and even mistakes. They are open to alternative ideas because they know, understand, and respect that they don’t have all the answers. (Examples of successful CEOs that take a more humble approach include Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Tony Hsei of Zappos.) This creates confidence, and thereby motivation, within the organization. Humble leaders let people do their jobs, aren’t afraid to ask stupid questions, turn mistakes into learning and mentoring opportunities, encourage dissent and embrace opinions and methods different than their own, and forego the trappings of power.
Years ago, when I was named president of the medical device company I ended up leading for eight years, my very first action—within the first hour of starting the job—was to remove the “Reserved for President” parking spot. Later, I removed the custom furniture from my office, and when we built a new building, I ditched the private bathroom. These were small actions in the grand scheme of things, but they sent a message to the company that I was no better than others who worked there. The approach paid dividends several years later, when I needed considerable time off and flexibility to deal with a family medical situation. I was open with my team about what was going on and I received incredible support, under- standing, and compassion from them.
Do you display arrogance or ego at home or in the work place? Would your family or coworkers agree? What would happen if you made your vulnerabilities and shortcomings more visible? How would your peers, team, and family react?