Leaders are usually in leadership positions because they have proven themselves in some capacity. They may have had the best technical skills, or the boldest and best ideas, or maybe they found themselves in a leadership position because they knew how to work with and motivate a team of people to accomplish far more than they could alone.
As leaders rise, however, there is a tendency to let it go to their heads. The faster a leader rises, the more likely this is to happen. Pride begins to set in, and pride is the gateway drug to arrogance.
Leadership, Skill and Value
Leaders must strive to never confuse their skills with their value. I may be “better at” something, but that doesn’t mean I am “better than” someone. People matter! They may have a different skill set or serve in a different capacity, but they matter.
“Lousy leaders are ‘better’ at everything. Arrogant talent is a barrier to the growth of others. Humility opens doors for others.” ~ Dan Rockwell
Leaders who alienate people by their arrogance rarely last. But leaders who value people and elevate others create long lasting impact. Research continually reinforces that the ability to engage with people is a key indicator for success and employee performance.
Arrogance and Humility
No one sets out to become arrogant. We can each think of someone who we have known who over time has grown to be full of themselves. If arrogance is in fact something that can develop over time, then it also stands to reason that there are things we can do to avoid it happening to us. But it can be tricky. One can simply go through the motions in order to wear their humility like a shiny badge of honor.
A professor of mine in college would, after leading the class in sharing positive feedback regarding our in-class presentations, transition to sharing criticism with the phrase, “Lest a man [or woman] think more highly of himself than he ought…” In his honor, here are a few suggestions on how to cultivate humility.
“Leaders who alienate people by their arrogance rarely last.” -Jason Cooper
7 Practical Ways to Cultivate Humility
1. Have lunch with the janitor.
Seek out those who by the world’s standards are near the bottom. Get to know them. Ask them questions. Treat them as equals (because ultimately they are). You’ll find that you are not so different from them.
2. Intentionally share the credit with your team even when they aren’t around.
Make sure those who want to give you the credit know you couldn’t have done it alone. And make sure your team knows they are vital to your organization and appreciated. You can’t just say it…it has to be real. People can smell phony praise a mile away.
Leadership Tip: Give genuine praise. Share credit. Appreciate your team.
3. Read material from leaders that believe in elevating/serving others.
4. Get your hands dirty from time to time working alongside your team.
People really get to know each other when they work side by side. But if you do this, clarify the role you are serving on the project and set aside your title accordingly. Don’t volunteer to help on the project and then take control. Submit to the authority of the designated leaders and play your part.
5. Find a mentor or coach who is well beyond you.
A mentor who is more seasoned than yourself will likely not hesitate to be brutally honest with you. In fact, give them permission to do so. A good mentor knows not to overlook our faults and shortcomings and challenges us to grow.
6. Find a way to serve your coworkers or employees on a regular basis.
There is a saying, “Do for one what you wish you could do for all.” Give little gifts, birthday or anniversary cards. Take someone to lunch. Switch roles and do something for them that they normally do for you.
7. Volunteer at a community organization that serves the poor or homeless and don’t tell anyone.
Serving those in our society who have the least can be a most humbling experience. If you do this, find a volunteer role that puts you face to face with those you are serving. Sorting donated clothing for a local shelter is helpful, but assisting a homeless mother with two small children find “new” clothes to replace the only ones they own forces you to evaluate your perspective on life.
Always keep in mind what a wise mentor of mine once told me: “Remember, you are special…just like everyone else. Treat them that way!”