Jim Collins: Stung by a Life-Changing Comment
It was 1988. Jim Collins was a first year faculty at Stanford.
Jim writes, “… I sought out Professor John Gardner for guidance on how I might become a better teacher. Gardner, former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, founder of Common Cause, and author of the classic text Self-Renewal, stung me with a comment that changed my life.”
“It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting,” he said. “Why don’t you invest more time being interested?” John Gardner to Jim Collins. Recorded in Good to Great and the Social Sectors.
Humility is the honesty and courage to change and grow.
5 creative ways to be humble:
#1. Embrace your aspirational self.
Advice that stings tests aspiration.
Do you really want to improve or will you choose the temporary relief of staying the same?
Compare yourself with who you aspire to become, not others.
Humility without aspiration is self-serving entitlement.
#2. Lean in when it stings:
Jim could have plugged his ears to Gardner’s stinging observation. Instead, his life changed trajectory in a moment.
You either lean into the sting and grow or you make excuses and stay the same.
#3. Focus on practicing humility.
Forget about overcoming arrogance. You can be proud of your humility.
It’s better to behave your way into humility than it is to feel your way out of arrogance.
#4. Eat humble pie like a leader.
Humility is transparency about the skills and behaviors you’re working to develop.
Don’t spew about your weaknesses. Affirm your aspirations.
I”m working to become a better decision-maker. (Insert your areas of weakness – patience, collaboration, relationship building … .)
#5. Reach outside yourself.
“We found that for leaders to make something great, their ambition has to be for the greatness of the work and the company, rather than for themselves.” Jim Collins
How might leaders get the most from stinging advice?
We sure seem to be writing a LOT about the construct of “humble” as it affects things like Selfless Leadership and coaching and mentoring and so many other things. But how are we doing at actually changing the behavior of those people who are “a bit less than humble” and who influence the lives of so many others.
Obama seems humble but got nailed (and STILL gets nailed for it). Trump does not seem to humble.
HOW do we really have more impacts?
Thanks Dr. Scott. You aren’t the first to ask this question.
How can we help others be humble? Now that’s something to think about. First of all, no one can humble you. You much humble yourself. Some people go through tragedy and come out just as arrogant as before. Others go through tragedy and they let it humble them. It changes them.
I’m going to think about how to help others be humble…
Let them struggle and fail.
Tell them the truth.
One word “mentor”. My mentor showed me humility. He also taught me stewardship. I knew stewardship was for the land but what greater resources to a agency are the people. We need to make sure we are taking care of them and like stewardship for the land we need to leave them better then we found them. I have never met a mentor who was not humble.
I once heard that there are two kinds of people; those who are humble and those who are about to be humbled. It struck a nerve with me and I have chosen to try to be humble (a self choice) rather than to be humbled (not of one’s own choosing and most often is a public humiliation).
Also, I read in an article that if I start to believe that I’m so important to an entity, task or cause, to test my importance I should place my finger in a bowl of water. Remove it and see the hole that is left.
Yikes! This is indeed the cultural zeitgeist we are in now…I, too, am looking for ways to keep this from infecting my place of work!
it is so encouraging mentor
Thinking on what Dr. Simmerman wrote above, it reminds me of a quote I once saw from the author Wendell Berry “There are some things the arrogant mind does not see; it is blinded by its vision of what it desires.” It takes somewhat of an enlightened mind to take a critique and not live it as unchangeable truth, or become defensive, or angry/ upset at the instruction. I like your wording to use that feedback to “focus on what you aspire to become” which hits me differently than just using it to learn and grow. I need to think more on it.
Left me pondering what taught me “humbleness”?
The mistakes we make along the journey that hurt others and ourselves, the hardest part is to recognize before we make the mistakes.
What we want to become truly sets the bar of us to reach, “never stop aspiring and inspiring”!
Four signs of a Humble Leader: they are hungry, hearing, forgiving and helpful. Whenever you stop one of the four, EGO enters without an invitation. Thanks Dan.
We have to ask ourselves why we feel the sting…that comment resonated truth and it’s important to ask ourselves WHY. The opportunity for growth lies in the answer to that question–that’s we can learn from that gap or blindspot. And if we are humble enough that there is always room for growth or improvement — if we truly adopt the Kaizen philosophy — we don’t have to fear those comments. Instead, welcome them because that is a sure sign that we’re ready for another growth period. And we are actively becoming a better version of our self.
I’ll be passing this article around. Thank you for your insights Dan!
This is a great paradox. If you say you’re humble, then you’re run the risk of maybe being arrogant. But if you’re arrogant, you have no way of being humble. I suppose it’s better to be arrogant but conscientiously trying to practice humility, patience, listening and other “good” servant-leader behaviors we’ve all read about over-time than it is to simply be arrogant. I also think “leaders” have a natural arrogance to them or a natural trait to be in charge or something, but that effective leaders know how to “take some edge off” by being humble and taking a breath.
I wrestle with this all the time and I’ve commented to other posts about the balance between knowing you’re pretty good at leading but also knowing you have room to improve. You can’t be too “soft” at least in the beginning otherwise the team may not come along but you can’t be too hard over-time otherwise the team flees or acts out of fright.