Friday, January 23, 2009

The Cost of Lost Humility in a Leader

Hubrisj0438345 As millions suffer on Main Street, many leaders on Wall Street don’t seem to understand the meaning of humility. The former CEO of Merrill Lynch, John Thain, a Wall Street kingpin, resigned after it was reported that he recently spent $1 million to decorate his office and rushed to pay billions in executive payouts just days before his firm was bought out by Bank of America and bailed out on the backs of hard working taxpayers. (1) The opposite of humility is hubris (i.e., excessive pride or arrogance). I hereby crown Thain the king of hubris.

Contrary to Thain’s pathetic example, there is some evidence that corporate leaders are acting with greater humility. Take for example John Edwardson, CEO of CDW, a $5 billion company that sells to IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and other computer manufacturers. Edwardson demonstrates his humility by not taking himself seriously. He has made regular bets that the company couldn't reach certain goals. When it did, he responded by shaving his head or growing mutton chop sideburns. (2) Humility also translated into visibility and availability. The conspicuous corner office with the foreboding door gave way to a large picture window. Employees can now look in and watch him work.

Former UPS CEO, Mike Eskew captured the spirit of a leader's humility when he pointed out that he was only one of 360,000 people who worked at UPS.

As I mentioned in my last blog, researcher Jim Collins defined a Level 5 leader as one who "builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will." (3)

Collins and his team of researchers found Level 5 leaders demonstrated personal humility in the following manner:

- A compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful.

- A quiet, calm determination; relying on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.

- Channels ambition into the company, not the self; sets up successes for even greater success.

- Spends more time looking out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company.

Humility is the ability to keep your accomplishments in perspective. It must be hard to do if your perched in an office on the 100th floor, above Wall Street. Let us pray for them. As Pastor Rick Warren says, "humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less."

Keep eXpanding (but don't inflate),



2. Justin Martin; Rise of the New Breed: The Age of the Imperial CEO Is Waning. In Its Place, a Crop of New CEOs -- Humble, Team Building, Highly Competitive -- Are Rising, Chief Executive, August 1, 2003.

3. Jim Collins; Good to Great, HarperCollins, New York, NY, 2001, page 20

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