I want to avoid adding to the fire of all that is being written this about the failure of responsible action on the part of leaders and the tragedy that has struck so many leaders at Penn State University. Instead I prefer to write about a key leadership skill that I think is the downfall of more leaders than not doing the right thing, which was at the heart of so many leaders failure at Penn State. I like to believe that not doing the right thing as a leader is a much smaller problem than not being humble as a leader. I recently consulted with a bright young leader who has a great team, a great business and tons of opportunity but I am truly concerned that his lack of humility may prevent him from realizing his personal or business objectives. We are working hard to overcome this issue and some of the discussions have created strong thoughts that I wanted to share in this blog.
First, I truly believe that humility enables an individual to be able to look objectively at yourself in terms of your strengths and weaknesses. For those of you who have read my book, Transformational Leadership-A Blueprint for Real Organizational Change, you will know that there was a period of time where I was not as humble a leader as I needed to be. I was running a manufacturing business in Mexico and I made a ton of leadership mistakes because my lack of humility caused me not to draw on the expertise around me and understand that I could not be a expert in everything. In other words, I was simply not admitting what “I did not know”(recall that blog subject a couple of weeks ago) and calling on the support and expertise of others to help me. In the book, you can find additional details about these failings and how it almost ruined my career early on in GE. The good news here is that I did learn from these failures in Mexico and was fortunate to turn it around and realize successes from the experience. As a current humble leader, I will remind you again that that I never learned nearly as much from my successful activities than from my failures. I believe that is what makes my book such valuable reading!
As you have probably realized at this point, I believe humility and failures are the grounds for real learning and success. I believe that to be true for three distinct reasons when it comes to humility. First, as I stated above you simply can not be an expert in everything. Some leaders are strong financially, others are great communicators and there are those who are excellent strategically. As a leader, decide what you are best at and be humble enough to hire great people and give them real authority to act in their areas of expertise. Second, humility draws out the help, opinions and acts to persuade others with whom you have chosen to lead. Always believing that you have all the answers and know what is good for all with soliciting their thoughts is the quickest way to build an empire of “yes” folks who will do little to correct the course of the business even if they know it is wrong. Last, it simply enables the leader to grow because as I said before what you don’t know as a leader always far exceeds what you do know!