What a mistake we make when we misidentify humbleness for weakness. Humility is self-confidence without arrogance. Humility asks us to acknowledge our imperfections and requires that we admit when we are wrong and then change course.
One particularly interesting article in Psychology Today, that examines why “We Love Humble Leaders, but Idolize Narcissists” details that, “data shows, that as a culture we love humble leaders, but end up idolizing narcissists up on pedestals”. And it isn’t to say that there is no value in narcissism at the helm, because there is a record of accomplishment of great narcissistic success in the world (Steve Jobs, a certain unnamed POTUS – or several would likely fit this definition, Larry Ellison at Oracle frequently gets bucketed here, and so on and so on) … In the Psychology Today piece noted earlier in this blog, they highlight Professor Charles O’Reilly at Stanford’s business school, arguing that narcissistic leaders showing dominant traits in entitlement, grandiosity, and low empathy make more money than humble counterparts. And that the longer they lead, the more they make. And some are geniuses in their craft, which cannot be overlooked.
Years back, we recall several articles boasting the narcissistic leader as the trend of the time. A consistent point made, cited here from the Academy of Management’s 2011 study from a Forbes article of the same year on why Egomaniacs Make the Best Leaders, quoted was this line, “due to their supreme confidence and craving for attention, narcissistic CEOs propel early and aggressive adoption of technological discontinuities by established companies…”
We don’t disagree with the case being made and that there have been plenty of vastly impactful and extremely successful leaders who would be classified as egomaniacs (we listed several above and we all know or perhaps even are a few of them ourselves). But our business at Webber Kerr is leadership… And we disagreed then, and still do now… When looking long-term, and looking at leadership qualities that go beyond revenue growth on paper, our experience proves that humble leaders outshine. Working within the highest ranks of large and small companies, we have seen leaders come and go and helped guide these businesses on their appointment decisions. When faced with 2 choices, it is the low-key (albeit confident and qualified) leader that consistently elevates the businesses to the next levels. The way we see it and advise our clients on, it that leaders must grow and learn to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of business and the people that fuel it. “Growing and learning often involves failure and can be embarrassing,” but therein lies the point. Leaders than can figuratively fall flat on their faces, get back up again, and keep going set the tone for not only their own personal success, but that of every person watching the fall.
The Psychology Today piece cited above again brings great insight to the debate, stating “researchers found that such leaders model how to be effectively human rather than superhuman and legitimize "becoming" rather than "pretending….” And goes on to say that, “those who possess the combination of honesty and humility have better job performance. In fact, we found that humility and honesty not only correspond with job performance, but it predicted job performance above and beyond any of the other five personality traits like agreeableness and conscientiousness."
“In an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve,” leadership expert Jim Collins argues Level 5 leaders, the best leaders, exhibit the following characteristics:
- Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful.
- Acts with quiet, calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.
- Channels ambition into the company, not the self; sets up successors for even more greatness in the next generation.
- Looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck.
- Looks out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company—to other people, external factors, and good luck”.
Some of our best stories of triumph at Webber Kerr, have come when we have both literally and figuratively fallen on our faces in public forums. But those who take risks, will inevitably face failure (see here on why we make a case for doing the things that make you nervous everyday), but it is the style and grace you get back up with that will define your impact on those around you watching and hoping for guidance. You show your employees the emphasis not on failing, but on how you worked through the adversity and found an option B.