Sunday, March 14, 2010

5 Little Things Make a BIG Difference as a Leader: Part 3: A Little Dose of Humility

This is the 3rd of a 5 part series about some of the little things you can start or stop doing that can make a big difference on how you are perceived as a leader.

Maybe you’ve seen the beer commercial where the guy just can’t seem to say the words “I love you” to his girlfriend:

OK, now imagine that guy is a leader, and he’s trying to say these words:

“I was wroooo………. (wrong)”

“I don’t nnnnnnnn…… (know)

“I need helllllllllll…. (help)”

“I’m sa sa sa sa…….. (sorry)”

Pretty silly, right? However, I’ll tell you, I see this all the time. The more senior the leader, the worse it gets. And just like the beer commerical, I see it more in men than woman.

As leaders, we often feel the need to project unwavering confidence and optimism. Never let ‘em see you sweat, right?

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that to a degree. No one wants to follow a wimpy, pessimistic, or bumbling leader. Especially in tough times, we need our leaders to show us the way and inspire us to feel like we’re going to make it against tough odds.

However, just like any leadership skill that’s overdone, too much confidence has it’s dark side. It looks and sounds like:

- Not willing to admit you’re wrong
- Not willing to ask for help
- Not being willing to apologize
- Being a know-it-all

When people see behavior like this from leaders, they don’t get inspired. They think:
Arrogant…… clueless…… self-centered………jerk.

Your lose the respect and trust of your employees, irritate your peers, lose credibility with your manager, and possibly damage your organization by stubbornly refusing to change course.

A little dose of humility goes along way. I’m not talking about the big, dramatic public Tiger Woods apology. You don’t need to hire a public relations firm to stage it for you. It’s way easier than that. All it takes is a authentic, genuine, display of vulnerability.

Like this, from blogger Bret Simmons.

We’ve all been guilty of pulling one of these at some point in our careers.

I can relate. Something similar happened to me last week. I said something behind someone’s back and it got back to them. It was unprofessional and a stupid thing to do, especially given the role that I’m in. I called and apologized.

For homework, try practicing these and other simple phrases until you can say them without stuttering:

“You know what? I was wrong, I really was.”

“I shouldn’t have done that to you, and I apologize. I’m sorry, I really am.”

“You know what, I really don’t know. I’ll find out and get back to you with an answer”.

“I could really use some help on this. I’m way behind and have hit a wall”.


Bret Simmons said...

Thanks for the link to my article, Dan. I still feel terrible about my screw-up. It's going to cost me some skin, and I deserve it. Most involved will forgive me and move on. Either way, I have to move on. There is too much work to do, work that I am passionate about. Passion is a fire that can warm those around you, but it can also burn you and others from time to time. There is no reason one can't simultaneously pursue both zealousy and humility. Thanks! Bret

davidburkus said...

Great post Dan. Reminds me of the book "Leadership and Self-Deception."

Unknown said...

Great third point Dan! You hit me right on the head with this post as most of the time at work I am too confident to do my job that it makes me look arrogant before my coworkers, so I know I need a dose of humility to deal with that. Thank you for sharing this good stuff with us!

Dan McCarthy said...

Bret -
You made a common mistake and have done everything you can to apologize, learn from it, and move on.

David -
Thanks - I've not yet read it.

Javier -
Thanks, hope it works for you.

çiçek said...

thank you very much for sharing your beautiful I wish you success

Unknown said...


Good point and great reminder for us all. While we all want to appear on top of our game, confident, and optimistic this can some times look like arrogance. As such, a dose of humility can go a long way if we take a step back and see what type of perception we may be giving others.

I think Bret handled the apology really well by accepting and apologizing for his mistake. Something we should all do one time or another when we make mistakes.

Unknown said...

Dan, it is interesting that you bring this point up. My very first day at my current position my current boss told me:

"I'm going to give you a lot of responsibility and I'm sure I'll overwhelm you at first. And you're going to screw up. We all do. But I am a big believer in communication, and problems only worsen if you are not able to admit mistakes and you try to hide them. So when you screw up, let me know and we'll fix it."

I can't express how valuable that lesson has already proved. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!