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Solution Saturday: Humble without Shooting Yourself in the Foot

Dear Dan,

I have a question regarding your post on Humility.

You point out that as leaders we need to provide opportunities for others to shine, so that they even outperform you.

Now, if I provide others to succeed even beyond myself, how am I to prove myself to the senior management, especially if the person is a near-competitor of mine.  

I think I’m missing a link here perhaps.

Would appreciate your response.


Striving for success

PS: I’m based in Pakistan. We have quite limited opportunities here and the a lot of people around to take those. So probably it would give you the context with which I’m speaking.

Dear Striving,

Thank you for your email. It’s great to read your passion for leadership and feel your aspiration for success.

Culture matters:

Thank you also for indicating that you’re from Pakistan. Culture matters. My response should be filtered through cultural norms and expectations. Having said that, many leadership principles are universal. For example, successful leaders serve the best interest of others and the organizations where they lead.

In the middle:

Your email indicates that you’re in middle management or below. You face performance challenges others don’t. The lower you are in organizational hierarchy, the more you need to make an individual mark.

You move up the management chain by demonstrating individual qualities like persistence, social skill, energy, initiative, awareness of the big picture, passion to learn, and creativity. Moving up in management takes character as well as the ability to deliver great results.

Humility under-girds character and motivates service.

You always have opportunity if you show up to serve.

10 ways to be humble without shooting yourself in the foot:

  1. Don’t hold back your best in order to let others shine (unless you’re working to develop someone’s skills).
  2. Build a culture of transparency. Discuss strengths and weaknesses with colleagues. Eliminate the false perception that it’s possible for someone to do all things well.
  3. Learn how to leverage each other’s strengths and compensate for weaknesses.
  4. Don’t make yourself look bad in order for someone else to shine.
  5. Celebrate when others shine. Envy short-circuits leadership. Ambition goes wrong when another’s talent becomes a threat.
  6. Stay in your lane by focusing your energy on the one or two things that make you exceptional. You aren’t good at everything. Focus on behaviors that bring the most value. Help your colleagues do the same.
  7. Brag about others without putting yourself down.
  8. Brag about your team when you succeed.
  9. Align with the priorities and goals of those over you. You matter most when you do what matters most to those over you.
  10. Be known for gratitude and aspiration. Gratitude goes wrong when it produces complacency. Humility is both grateful for progress and unsatisfied at the same time. Arrogance looks at the past and says, “Not enough.” Humility looks at the past and says, “We can be better.”

Moving up:

As you move up, success becomes more about bringing out the best in others. Hire people who outshine your abilities in their area of expertise, for example. Never hire someone who isn’t better than you in some ways.

Ultimately, leaders come to the place where their best is bringing out the best in others.

What suggestions do you have for being humble without shooting yourself in the foot?

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