How to Lead with the Power of Humility
The seductions of arrogance wreck leaders, demoralize teams, and destroy organizations.
“The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance.” (Attributed to Albert Einstein.)
Everything good in leadership begins with humility.
Subtleties of arrogance:
- Taking offense at slights. A thin skin points to pride. “You deserve better.”
- Judging others by unspoken expectations. The “humble-arrogant” are better than others because they hold people to high standards that they don’t meet themselves.
- Searching for self-justification. Arrogance circles back on problems – not to find solutions – but in search of reasons it didn’t do wrong.
The brother of arrogance is disdain.
All you can do is coerce those you look down on.
Humility is a practice not a destination.
#1. Acknowledge the subtlety of arrogance.
Humility begins when you acknowledge arrogance.
You have puddles of humility and oceans of arrogance, but you judge yourself by the puddles. My own arrogance makes me skeptical of any other option.
#2. Pursue growth.
“An arrogant person considers himself perfect. This is the chief harm of arrogance. It interferes with a person’s main task in life – becoming a better person.” Leo Tolstoy
Everyone who develops their leadership knows what they’re working on.
What leadership behavior will you practice today?
Practice is intentional repetition that includes reflection and course adjustment.
#3. Pick up the trash.
Don’t simply tell people to pick up the trash. Pick it up yourself.
No job is menial to the humble.
Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, was famous for picking up trash. “Every night you’d see him coming down the street, walking close to the gutter, picking up every McDonald’s wrapper and cup along the way,” former McDonald’s CEO Fred Turner told author Alan Deutschman. “He’d come into the store with both hands full of cups and wrappers.” (Daniel Coyle in the Culture Code)
What are the subtitles of arrogance?
How might leaders practice humility?
I love the quote: “Humility is a practice, not a destination.” I believe that there is no place for arrogance in leaders. Confidence is one thing: I expect (and want) a confident leader. But there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and those who may not be secure in themselves and their talents can cross that line. Constantly acknowledging the fact that no one can do it along is one way to practice humility. Also, giving people the latitude to “check” or “challenge” you is another. Great article Dan!
Great stuff, Dan. And it definitely needs expansion. There is a lot of good writing going on around these subjects, but action? Hmmm…
Like with Trust, there sure seems to be a reluctance of many managers to talk about and around this issue and their performance.
A couple of years ago, we did “Godzilla Meets Bambi” as an animated narrated slideshow. The focus is on “what’s wrong with innovation” but the overall framework certainly fits. Your thoughts and comments on it would be most appreciated.
The thought was to make fun of common “leadership” practices…
I find gratitude a deterrent, to arrogance, but acknowledge the battle..
I also appreciate the insightful “humility is a practice, not a destination.” – Thanks!
My brother recently alerted me to your blog and I’ve already thanked him! I greatly appreciate your sharing of very practical wisdom. So much of “leadership” talk is the message of Rohn, Maxwell, and other greats rehashed. You’re insights are direct and actionable.
May God bless you in the same way you bless us each day.
Dan, I think my computer is over-loaded with notes that have come from your thoughts and words of wisdom on leadership and management over the many years–especially on the great virtue of humility. From years ago, this is my favorite: Humility does not mean we think less of ourselves: It means we think of ourselves less. Continued blessings “all-ways.” –rick
I suspect that disdain is more the immature child of arrogance than sibling, disdain being more an expression of denial, “No-No-No!!!”
Denial being the mother of all arrogance.
Thus ignorance shared (denial) being the parents of denial, the grandparents of arrogance, the great-grandparents of disdain.
It does tend to propagate in a generational manner; that’s why it’s so hard to resist and change culturally.
Previous posts linked genuine curiousity as a natural antidote to ignorance, and the natural path to genuine humility. I find this to be most correct, both rationally and emotionally.
Reminds me of the ancient Zen master who invited a young disenfranched girl into his home, to shelter her; she was soon found to be pregnant and was desperate to not be responsible for the child and told the community that the child was his, to which he only responded, “Is that so?” He took care of her still through the pregnancy, and took responsibility for the child when she left soon after childbirth.
Many seasons later she returns, and wanted her child back, and so told everyone that he was not in fact the father, to which he responded, “Is that so?” as he reluctantly but gracefully returned the healthy and bright child to its mother.
Appreciate your post on this subject: it is too easy to become arrogant; i.e., disrespectful of others. Agree that gratitude is helpful to focus upon and may change one’s perspective of the situation.
This post took me back to my high school where our principal would pick up any trash he saw on the floor of the hallway in the school. Modeling both humility and pride of place.
It has been my experience that arrogance is often a mask for insecurity. If one is confident in their place and capability, and not fearful of being surpassed or replaced (whether as a result of toxic culture or self-doubt), they tend not to cross that very thin bridge between self-assured and arrogant.