4 Ways to Practice Conspicuous Humility

humility
This is an excerpt from Leading With Edge by Jose R. Costa. Jose is currently the CEO of For Eyes, a leader in optical retail.

 

Practice Humility

It may sound counterintuitive, but humility is a quality that often needs to be put on display. If you believe you have all the answers, think you are always right, or are somehow above others because of your position, or if the people around you perceive that, then they aren’t as likely to come to you with their knowledge, ideas, or opinions—not unless they have to.

 

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” -Thomas Merton

 

So, how do you do this? There are acts of humility that you can make a point of practicing that will help people feel more comfortable around you, encourage them to be open and honest with you, and make it easier for them to contribute their thoughts and ideas. You can convey a sense of humility in big ways and small. Here are some simple ways that any leader can incorporate humility into his/her day-to-day work:

1) De-emphasize hierarchy

I never state my title when I introduce myself to someone, especially someone junior to me. Saying I’m the CEO or in charge of such-and-such only reinforces a feeling of hierarchy or superiority. So does sitting in a big corner office while your team members crowd together in cubicles. That’s why, when I became the CEO of For Eyes by GrandVision, I moved my desk, as well as those of all the company’s managers, out to the floor so we could sit with our teams. In an article for The Washington Post, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, was once quoted as saying: “The moment you discover in life that it’s not about yourself, that it is about investing in others, I think you’re entering a steadier state to be a great leader. Because above all, I think the main quality of a leader is to be a human being. There’s no reason you are special because you happen to have this job.” (“The Tao of Paul Polman” by Lillian Cunningham, The Washington Post, May 21, 2015.)

When I was in marketing at a quick-service restaurant chain, there was a franchise owner who was very successful. He owned close to one hundred restaurants in a region where the chain was very popular, and his business did very well. Over the years, he became a very wealthy guy and it showed. He drove an extremely expensive car. He dressed in extremely expensive, tailored suits. He always wore a big gold wristwatch. Everything about him screamed money and ostentatiousness. And this was how he would present himself when he walked into the fast food restaurants he owned—where the people working for him were only making about $7.00 an hour. Many of these people were barely making ends meet, so it was no wonder that his employees often seemed to lack energy or enthusiasm for their jobs. Based on what I saw, they were always polite to him, but I got the feeling that they didn’t really like or respect him. He was successful, sure, but I always wondered how much more successful he could have been had he practiced humility in the way he presented himself to his team.

After meeting with the franchisee a few times, I became more conscious of how I dressed and presented myself around different people. I have nothing against you enjoying the fruits of your labor, but I do think that should be balanced against an awareness of and respect for other people’s positions and circumstances. It’s important for people to know who’s in charge, but that’s different from rubbing their faces in it.

 

“Success is not a function of the size of your title but the richness of your contribution.” -Robin Sharma

The Benefits of Leaders Asking Powerful Questions

questions

 

This is a guest post by Fred Halstead, founder and principal of Halstead Executive Coaching and author of Leadership Skills That Inspire Incredible Results*.

 

The Leadership Skill of Asking Questions

Powerful questions will help you learn both about the person you’re speaking with and the subject you’re discussing. You can find out how the person thinks and what is important to them, based upon what they say and don’t say. The more you continue to ask powerful questions, the more you will accomplish both. This confirms George Bernard Shaw’s point: “The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” So often we fall into a trap in which we believe we understand each other and grasp the concepts being explained, only to later find that it was almost as if we were speaking a different language to one another. Continual probing and on-target questions will help both you and the other person arrive at the best solution and learn more about each other and yourselves.

 

“The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” -George Bernard Shaw

 

It seems obvious since we spent two chapters discussing the importance of listening, but when a question is asked, allow the other person the time to respond. You want to be sure that thought processing and critical thinking are at play. I had one client who felt that the reason the respondent didn’t answer immediately was that he or she didn’t have an answer. If you want a quick answer, there is a really low probability that you will gain a truly thoughtful answer. If your expectation from a thought-provoking question is a quick answer, you risk the other person being frustrated in a nonproductive way, with you and with themselves.

Powerful questions also satiate your sense of curiosity. When you are curious, you want to learn more and you will more naturally ask questions in ways that will maximize the other person’s thinking. When the right question does not come to mind or the person was not clear in what he or she said or was trying to say, you can always respond: “Tell me more about that.” This simple phrase will expand the other person’s thinking as they further verbalize their thoughts and your understanding of what they are saying. When one is not naturally curious, the desire to respect the other person by exploring their thinking provides a solid motivation to ask questions that bring out the person’s best thinking. Instead of saying, “Stay thirsty, my friend,” as Jonathan Goldsmith did in the Dos Equis ads, say to yourself, “Stay curious, my friend.” Lack of curiosity can be the foe of getting to the best result.

 

“Lack of curiosity can be the foe of getting to the best result.” -Fred Halstead

 

Powerful questions are perfect for discussing sensitive matters. Asking difficult, tough, or edgy questions can be hard for even the most veteran leaders, but those who want their colleagues and team members to succeed will of course need to ask some from time to time. As a coach, I ask those questions fairly often to bring out my client’s very best thinking. When the person is asked a tough question that reflects on them personally, you will find it interesting, maybe surprising, and rewarding to first ask for their permission to ask a difficult question.

The typical question is simply something like: “May I ask you a tough question about all of this?” (This is one example of when a yes/no question is wise.)leadership skills book cover

Tough or difficult questions are direct and go to the heart of personal accountability and, at the same time can inspire a higher level of performance. Examples of such questions include: “In retrospect, what could you have done differently to create the outcome we wanted?” or “What was an even better way for you to handle that?” These questions will help them reflect on their decisions and actions, and also on what they can do in the future to improve. A question such as, “What do you need to do to greatly improve this situation?” or “What specifically will you commit to do differently when this or a similar situation arises?” may feel too pointed at first, but it will lead to them being more reflective and thoughtful, help them avoid the same actions in the future, and to grow as a leader. These kinds of pointed questions also demonstrate that you care about them as a person and you care about their success—and they reflect clearly on who is responsible. They have no sense of “gotcha,” which tends to make it about you more than their responsibility.

 

“When you are curious, you want to learn more and you will more naturally ask questions in ways that will maximize the other person’s thinking.” -Fred Halstead

 

Ask Questions that Touch the Core

Ralph Waldo Emerson quote

Trust: How to Rebuild Brand Authenticity

trust

Trust.

It seems the days are gone when we trust easily. From individuals to organizations, our trust seems to be declining with each passing year.

And yet organizations build their brands on trust.

In his newly released book, The Post-Truth Business:  How to Rebuild Brand Authenticity in a Distrusting World, researcher and strategist Sean Pillot de Chenecey shares what brands need to do to have authentic, long-lasting relationships with their consumers in an age of fake news, privacy issues, and the search for truth.

 

The Number One Issue Facing Brands

Your view on the importance of trust is clear from the very first page where you say, “Trust is the number one issue facing brands on a global basis.” What leads you to this conclusion? How is this different than years ago? 

Around the world, brand foundations are being shaken. It’s apparent that many brand-consumer relationships are on rocky ground, and something fundamental needs to change.

According to The Economist, “Consumer trust is the basis of all brand values, and therefore brands have an immense incentive to retain it.” And as that immensely powerful business-figurehead Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, stated so succinctly, “Once you have trust, the rest is easy.” However, these statements are set against a harsh reality illuminated by a much-cited industry report from the Havas agency, which noted that, “Much of the trust, respect and loyalty people had for many brands has disintegrated. You see it in the level of cynicism, skepticism and indifference that people have towards them.”

Company strategists are finally realizing that consumers are increasingly judging brands by how they actually behave, as opposed to simply believing the stories they tell. Thus, their brand credibility needs to be based on fact, not fiction. Businesses want to have strong and long-lasting relationships with their consumers. That brand-consumer relationship is built on trust, but in a post-truth world, brands are faced with a serious challenge: so much of modern life is defined by mistrust. So, for brands today, trust and truth are the most important games in town.

 

“Once you have trust, the rest is easy.” -Jack Ma

 

How to Build Trust

Share a few of the principles organizations should use to build trust.

To act as a reference guide for the leaders of ‘good businesses,’ I’ve collated the key learnings into a ‘Post-Truth Brand Manifesto.’ Here is a very brief summary of it…

Be authentic.

Truly authentic companies that want to earn and keep our trust have to ‘live it like they say it’ and dovetail brand intentions with the consumer reality. Because from a customer point of view, behavior is what builds brand credibility and corporate integrity, not merely the advertising stories that a brand may choose to tell.

How to Lead with Joy with Richard Sheridan

Click above to watch our video interview.

The How of Great Leadership

 

There are some books that I read, perhaps take a few notes, and then move on. There are others that are dog-eared, have my notes in the margin, and become reference guides. Today I am sharing one of those books.

This is one that I will recommend to aspiring leaders everywhere. It’s written by Richard Sheridan, CEO and cofounder of Ann Arbor-based Menlo Innovations. Menlo has won the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility for six straight years and many other awards.

Richard’s philosophy and focus are similar to my own. He zeroes in on culture, on servant leadership, on self-understanding, and on teaching others to lead. After reading his new book, Chief Joy Officer: How Great Leaders Elevate Human Energy and Eliminate Fear, I was pleased to continue the conversation. Watch our interview to learn more.

 

“A man is what he thinks about all day long.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

“If we encourage people to build relationships in a safe environment where they feel valued, not threatened, the masks can start to come off.” -Richard Sheridan

 

“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” -Walt Disney