Humility - The Final Stage of Confidence

In today's episode, we're continuing our leadership series on leading with character and competence with a discussion on the second cornerstone of character: humility. Humility is a performance accelerator; it allows you to develop, grow, and progress faster. It's the culminating stage of a leader's emotional and psychological development, and it's also one of the most difficult character traits to cultivate. This is a unique episode that will leave you with insights on humility that you haven't considered, which you can use to improve your leadership today.

Apple podcast buttonSpotify buttonGoogle podcast buttonAmazon Music button

Episode Show Notes

In today's episode, we're continuing our leadership series on leading with character and competence with a discussion on the second cornerstone of character: humility. Humility is a performance accelerator; it allows you to develop, grow, and progress faster. It's the culminating stage of a leader's emotional and psychological development, and it's also one of the most difficult character traits to cultivate. This is a unique episode that will leave you with insights on humility that you haven't considered, which you can use to improve your leadership today.

(04:27) What is humility? Tim and Junior describe the behaviors of humble leaders and define humility. "Humility is the unresented acknowledgement of two things: number one, you need other people's help, and number two, you don't know everything. It puts you in a different frame of mind, a different attitude, a different emotional state."

(08:26) Humility is a performance accelerator. "The problem with hubris is that you become your own obstacle, you get in your own way, and with humility, you're able to move on, learn from the experiences that you're having, and go forward unencumbered, unrestrained."

(17:31) Humility is an acknowledgment of the truth. "Humility is simply an acknowledgement of the truth of things, and the truth is we are all dependent, and we do need each other. So an attitude of humility is really appropriate in human interactions as we think about how we need each other and how we should help each other. If you live life and you're hoarding, trying to hoard recognition, praise, honor, and credit, it diminishes others."

(25:19) To achieve humility, we must overcome insecurity without using junk theories of superiority. "One of the distinguishing characteristics of those who have humility is that they stare right into their imperfections and weaknesses. They acknowledge them, they know what they are, and paradoxically, that is actually what enables them to stand with so much confidence. Because they're not worried about being found out, there's not something that they're trying to hide, that they're self-conscious about and worried that people are going to discover."(

35:36) Leaders can think about their inquiry vs. advocacy ratio to overcome personal hubris. "If we're just stuck in advocacy mode, then we're not getting the feedback, and the reality that we're looking at may be distorted."

(41:00) Humble leaders are kind and demanding at the same time. "These are humble, very effective leaders that have evolved as leaders to a world-class level. They delegate more with the understanding that people grow only when they leave their comfort zones and travel to their outer limits. They realize that stretching, because they put a lot of stretch in the goals they give people, is both painful but also exhilarating. And that's the only place where people can build new capacity."

(51:13) To gain humility, you must develop a high tolerance for candor. "Ask yourself, on a scale from 1 to 10, what is your tolerance for candor?"

(54:45) Tim and Junior share additional characteristics of humble leaders. "They don't need to hear themselves talk, so they don't clamor for airtime. They stop telling the world how smart they are. They don't subscribe to the leader as an expert model in which the leader is the repository of all knowledge. They value the appreciation and recognition of their peers when it's meaningful, but it's not a requirement. They have learned that leadership often requires that we go for long periods and long distances without reward or recognition, that we toil in obscurity, and that due credit might come, but it might not. Final-stage leaders learn to fuel their efforts through intrinsic rewards. They learn that achievement carries its own compensation."

Important Links

Leading with Character and Competence

Episode Transcript

0:00:02.4 Producer: Welcome back, culture by design listeners. It's Freddy, the producer of the podcast. In today's episode, we're continuing our leadership series on leading with character and competence with the discussion on the second cornerstone of character humility, if you didn't listen to the previous episodes in this series, don't worry, you can start here and go back to the others later. Humility is a performance accelerator, it allows you to develop, grow and progress faster, it's the culminating stage of a leader's emotional and psychological development, it's also one of the most difficult character traits to cultivate, this is a unique episode that I guarantee will leave you with at least one powerful insight on humility that you haven't considered before and that you can use to improve your leadership today. As always, links to this episode's show notes can be found at leaderfactor.com/podcast. Thanks for listening. Enjoy today's episode on humility, the final stage of confidence.

0:01:13.3 Junior: Welcome back, everyone to culture by design. My name is Junior and I'm here with Dr. Tim Clark, and today we'll be discussing the second cornerstone of character humility. Tim, how are you? 

0:01:23.8 Tim: Doing well junior. Good to be with you.

0:01:25.0 Junior: Good to be with you. You have front page HBR this week.

0:01:28.9 Tim: Yeah, it was kind of fun. We had a fun little article that we published about how to read a business book, which is probably something that we all are trying to figure out how to do that better more effectively.

0:01:41.8 Junior: Yeah, no kidding, it's probably safe to say that our listeners read business books, so if you're a listener, you're listening to this and you read business books, go check out the article. It's on Harvard business review, how to read a business book, there are some really practical takeaways, so if you haven't had a chance to take a look at that. Definitely do it. So humility, Jim Collins once said, "The highest level of leadership builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will." I love this quote. Tim, why do you think it's a paradox? 

0:02:15.1 Tim: I've always loved this quote, I think it's a paradox because people... Maybe on the face of it, those two things don't go together. Right, professional will. We think about strength, we think about power, we think about strong personality, we think about confidence, and that seems to militate against some of the attributes or characteristics that we associate with humility, and so it seems like oil and water to a certain extent, but I think in this episode, we're going to be able to debunk that myth and help people understand that those two things actually do go together.

0:02:57.7 Junior: Exactly. And I think that's why it's such an appropriate quote to start, a lot of people will politely tell you that humility is important, I've heard this before, but most don't, or many don't really truly believe it, and even fewer embody it. Some people think, as you say it's soft, it's acquiescent as you put it's cowering. Today we're gonna talk about why none of that is true, we're going to talk about why it's actually a performance accelerator, something that allows you to develop, to grow and to progress in a way that you couldn't without it. And something that I've really been thinking a lot about this week is that not only will it allow you to progress faster, but it unlocks a level of performance and capability that's unattainable without it.

0:03:45.1 Junior: I've been thinking about humility as it relates to A players, B players, C players, we often say that no number of C players or B players can equate an A because there's something different about the nature of their contribution. I think that that's true as it relates to humility relative to other characteristics that we could develop, we could do a whole lot of other things well, but without this, there's an area of performance that we just can't get to, and we're gonna talk about one why that's true, and two what we can do to get there and unlock that level of performance, so let's start with some definitions Tim, what is humility? How would you describe it? 

0:04:27.7 Tim: Well, I think we could begin by saying what it's not... It's not arrogance. It's not hubris, it's not pride. It's not conceit. It's not those things. So what is it? Well, and we're gonna come at this from several different angles, because I think... Humility has several different facets to it. It describes a state of mind where a person has made peace with themselves, and as a result of that, they've arrested their egos, and it comes out in their behavior, comes out in their language, it comes out in their communication, what do you see? You're gonna see less attention-getting behavior, less self-promotion, less flattery, you don't need to hear yourself talk, you don't need to clamor for airtime, you stop telling the world how smart you are, these are just some of the indications, I think, of humility.

0:05:39.5 Tim: There are behavioral patterns that change, you don't seek status through association, you refrain from dropping names, it goes on and on, but let me see if I can tie this up with a bow. Overall, I think humility is the un-resented acknowledgement of two things, Number one, You need other people's help, and number two... And they go together. You don't know everything. So you don't know everything. You need other people's help. It's the un-resented acknowledgement of those realities, and it puts you in a different frame of mind, a different attitude, a different emotional state, so there's a first attempt to get our arms around this concept, Junior of humility.

0:06:32.4 Junior: I think that it's important, the acknowledgement of your dependency to me, that's the crux of the issue, and I know that there have been times in my own life where you want some more independence and you may feel like, I don't need as many people, and whatever. We can get in that frame of mind, and then what's helped me... And we'll get into this later, but the reason I'm thinking about this is 'cause the other day, I was thinking about this principle of dependency as I was driving and thought about, Okay, how many other people effected just this experience, there's no one around me. But how many other people enabled this experience of me driving down the road, and I thought about it for a while, and I said, Well, this road is here, not because of me. I don't know how to build roads, I'm driving in this car that I didn't build. Other people build. And so we often confine the environment that we're talking about to something really, really local, and we say," Oh, I don't need people."

0:07:42.0 Junior: Okay, well, if you look, you expand your view and you look at it from a macro level, it's impossible to argue that you are completely independent, it's impossible to argue that you have no dependency for all of these things that go on in your life, and so that may sound like a really weird esoteric example, but at least for me, that hit home as I just think about all of the components of my life that actually are dependent on other people, and when you realize that at a basic core principle level, I think it then allows you to more easily acknowledge your dependence on others at a local level, when you're in a room discussing an idea, an issue that's pertinent to your work, there's this overarching macro-level understanding that you can't do everything.

0:08:26.1 Tim: If we go back to the premise, Junior, that you stated initially, and that is that humility is a performance accelerator that should get people's attention, you need to think about that it's a performance accelerator, and if you don't have it, if the humility is not there, then and you're filled with arrogance or pride or hubris, then that becomes a limiting factor in your own development and performance, and it may even become a derailer. So think about the distance. A limiting factor means that it is neutralizing your growth, your advancement, your development, and if it's really bad, it's not just a limiting factor, it's a derailer, which puts your current performance in jeopardy. So we see the difference between those two things. Well, at some point, humility is required, because the other great virtue of humility is that it allows you to see things much more clearly, that's what it does, it gives you a clear vision, it helps you become more impartial, more objective, more unbiased, more self-aware, unedited, self-awareness, you're unencumbered with bias and conceit and prejudice, and these things that drive distorted thinking and feeling, that's where we wanna get to, if we don't get there, then we're not going to continue to grow and develop the way we want to.

0:10:09.5 Junior: It's probably appropriate to acknowledge too that this is a difficult thing, and that it's the journey of a very long time... It's the journey of a lifetime. I read Ben Franklin biography a long time ago, and there was a quote in it that I really liked, he said, "in reality, there is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride, disguise it, struggle with it. Beat it down, stifle it, Modify it As much as one pleases, it is still alive and will every now and then, peep out and show itself, you will see it perhaps often in this history, for even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility."

0:10:53.6 Tim: What a classic statement...

0:10:55.5 Junior: I love that. What a classic statement and also what a humble statement, it is comedic, and I laugh, but it really is a humble statement like, Hey, you're gonna be reading this, and in this case, I think section from an autobiography, and you're gonna be reading this and probably every now and then there's gonna be some pride that creeps up, and I acknowledge that that's probably there, and if I thought that it wasn't that point, I'd probably be proud of my humility at which point... The cycle begins again. So it's something that we're constantly looking for, something that needs to be developed time and time and time again, a little bit at a time, so... I love that quote, and it's something that I think about often.

0:11:40.0 Tim: Yeah, that's really true.

0:11:41.1 Junior: So you mentioned some of the de-attributes of people with humility, and I put a list of some of the other things that characterize humble people, you mentioned a few things like not dropping names. I think that there are very practical examples like that, that characterize humble people. You also mentioned that they accept reality. They don't boast about their achievements, they acknowledge the contributions of others... I think that one's especially important... They consider different perspectives. They recognize that they don't have all the answers. I think that's one that we get wrong a lot, they tend to collaborate and share, they bounce back quickly from mistakes... That's one that I've been thinking about. How do you think that that ties in, they bounce back quickly from mistakes. I'm curious in your perspective, 'cause I've been tuned on this.

0:12:35.8 Tim: I think the more humble you are Junior, the less you will nurse, the hurt that you feel, the less prone you will be to go into a state of resentment, and so if you're not nursing the wrongs and the offenses that have been committed against you, then you are liberated to go forward, you can still progress. You're not holding yourself back. See, that's the problem with hubris is, you become your own obstacle, you get in your own way, and with humility you're able to move on, learn from the experiences that you're having and go forward, unencumbered, unrestrained, you're not getting in your own way.

0:13:25.3 Junior: Yeah, I think that's true, and I think, to me, there's this aura of pragmatism that accompanies humility, because if we say that it's an acceptance of reality and you've made some mistakes, then you're understanding the nature of mistakes, you're understanding what led to those mistakes, what inputs were your own... That you're responsible for what things happened that you couldn't have foreseen or that were out of your control. And so I think that it allows you to be very pragmatic about looking at the failure and saying, "Well, this is what happened, let's move forward," and it pulls a lot of the emotion out of it, which I think is healthy for a lot of these situations. Okay, the last one that you put in here is that humble people value contribution over competition, it's one of the things that I pulled out from the book, they value contribution over competition, that one, I think speaks to the heart of the issue in the workplace, more often than not, what is it that we're actually looking for? What is it that we value? Are we there to compete, are we there to contribute, so that's an overarching theme that I think will pull through the conversation, so moving on, Why then don't we all have perfect humility...

0:14:42.3 Junior: If we have a really good idea of what it is, we have a pretty good idea of how to develop it, then why don't we... And I think it's worth acknowledging some of the incentives that are counter to humility because there are many... And they're very strong. And the first one that I could come up with, was fame and recognition, most cultures glorify fame and celebrity status, people feel pressured to promote themselves, promote their achievements, they prioritize self-promotion, self-aggrandizement over modesty and acknowledging the contributions of others because of this fame and recognition that is so prevalent and so pernicious across almost every culture. What do you think about that one? 

0:15:30.5 Tim: Well, I think that's true, Junior. The culture promotes a focus on yourself, and so people that are preoccupied with this mode of life, they're focused inward and on themselves and not outward, and you can see that and it's actually not very interesting, and it's actually quite tiresome to... And in fact, if you've ever interacted with folks that live life this way, it's not very fun, because most of the time you have to listen and they're focused on them, and you can only do that for so long, I think... And going back to what you said, contribution versus competition Junior, if you're driven by arrogance or hubris, then you're seeking credit, you're seeking praise, your seeking recognition, you're hungering for that, you're thirsty-ing for that, instead of turning outward and not worrying about that... Right, so I wanna make one other point. The most basic level, you could say that humility is simply an acknowledgement of the truth of things, and the truth is that as we go back to what we were talking about before, we are all dependent and we do need each other, and so an attitude of humility is really appropriate in human interactions as we think about how we need each other and how we should help each other, and so if you live life and you're hoarding, you're trying to hoard recognition and praise and honor and credit. It's diminishing of others. And it's actually pretty tiresome to be around people like that.

0:17:31.1 Junior: That's true. The acknowledgement of the truth that's about as succinctly as I've ever heard it put, and I've never thought about it that way, but as I'm tossing around in my brain right now, it makes a lot of sense. The truth is something that is often right in front of us and not mysterious, but we often make it fucky. So speaking of truth and dependence, I saw a Reddit post a while back, and it was the documentation of this guy who made a cheeseburger, and the entire goal was to create everything necessary in order to assemble this cheeseburger without the help of anyone else.

0:18:13.8 Tim: You mean like from scratch.

0:18:16.8 Junior: From scratch. And so he raised the beef, slaughtered the beef, grew wheat grew tomatoes, made everything necessary for the spread that went on this burger, he made every single ingredient that went into this thing, bacon raised pigs to get the bacon to put on this burger.

0:18:44.1 Tim: Oh my word.

0:18:44.9 Junior: And it was really interesting just going through his experience, which was many, many, many months to get to this point where he could assemble a single cheeseburger, and so that to me was just another fascinating acknowledgement of our dependence on each other and acknowledgement of the truth that "Hey, yeah, sure, you could go do something like that by yourself, but definitely not what you're gonna wanna spend your time doing."

0:19:07.0 Junior: Okay, number two, financial success and materialism, this is number two of the incentives that are counter to humility, the pursuit of wealth and material possessions often fosters a sense of entitlement and often superiority as we accumulate those things, wealth and possessions, we often develop a sense of pride and arrogance that undermines our humility, so think of just how powerful this current is through almost any society is financial success and materialism, this works counter to humility almost every time. What do you think about this one? The materialism that's so prevalent today.

0:19:51.7 Tim: It is Junior, it's unfortunately, it's a dominant secular religion in our society, and it's a dead end, wealth and material possessions are always a means. Never an end. But you'll see some people that get into acquisition mode and it becomes their life-long obsession to acquire, and where does that lead? It leads to really emptiness and misery, and so we have to think very carefully about the fact that these things are a means to greater ends, people are the end. Relationships are the end, not wealth and material possessions. That's a dead end. It's not the end. If you get that mixed up in your life, it's going to be a hard journey.

0:20:41.7 Junior: I wanna leave time for some solutions, so we'll breeze through these next three, but we have power and authority, competitive environments, and social media and online culture. I think the other third one's worth spending a moment on, social media and online culture is fascinating, and it's developed and matured, may have too positive a connotation in a way that's pretty interesting, and it leads us to showcase the best aspects of a person's life and accomplishments and overshadow, humility and reality. And so, if I'm thinking about this through the lens of what you said before, that humility is an acknowledgement of the truth, how much truth is there in social media and online culture... That's a question for you. There's a war for attention, we know that much the content that we produce and that others produce is aimed at drawing attention... That's almost always going to be true. Otherwise, why would you put it out there, you're hoping that people attend to whatever it is that you're saying.

0:21:44.1 Tim: That right.

0:21:45.5 Junior: It's true to personal level it's true in organizational level why otherwise, would you put that stuff into the universe, we literally pay for attention, I think about paid advertising and the strategy of paid advertising, what are you doing? You are paying for attention, what's going to get eyeballs, is the truth going to get eyeballs is modesty going to get eyeballs, there's no mystery why we don't see much humility in media generally.

0:22:16.5 Tim: Well, that's really interesting, Junior, because... And this is a bit of a strong word, but when people present themselves on social media, it's staged, it's scripted, it's rehearsed, it may even be fabricated at a minimum, it is selective, and it's often sensationalized. And where does that lead? And if you're consuming that, if you're on the consuming end of that and you have a steady diet of that every day, do you feel greater than or less than through those comparisons, and do you feel a real sense of connection, a real sense of inclusion, a real sense of belonging. I don't think so. So this is where you can spend a lot of time and walk away feeling utterly empty, utterly barren, utterly desolate. Based on that experience. So that's telling us something.

0:23:16.2 Junior: Yeah, it is. Well, it's a question that I'm gonna, I think, ponder for the next few days, it's really sparking some thoughts, which... One of the questions is that I'm gonna think about is, How much do I value the truth? Because if the answer to that question is a lot, I value the truth a lot, then what does my diet of information look like it if I know the incentive structure, and I know I have a pretty good idea of how much truth lies in what I'm consuming then am I being intentional enough about what I'm consuming and is that strategy in line with my aspiration, and I think that it's a relevant question for each of us, so the last thing I wanna mention is that the world is changing and requires humility, like it hasn't before, and I know this is especially true in a professional setting, the environment is as dynamic as it's ever been, and it's as unforgiving as it's ever been, and so in order to succeed, you need to stay open and submissive to reality because that reality is changing every single day, so... No matter how much foresight you think you have or how anticipatory you try to be, you'll find yourself as you put, responding to threats you didn't see coming.

0:24:43.7 Junior: That's almost inevitable. And so if we know that that's the reality. Then how submissive do we really need to be? I think that that word submissive is really an interesting choice because it infers so much of what our posture should look like relative to the situation around us, We're not just imposing our will, we're looking around, we're looking at all of the indicators we're taking in information, we're acknowledging that things are going to be different tomorrow, and then we're being strategic about the choices that we make.

0:25:19.9 Tim: Junior, I think another hard thing about humility, achieving it, and maintaining it is simply the fact that the universal condition of the human family is insecurity. We're all insecure, and there's always this temptation to succumb to embrace some kind of junk theory of superiority and to make a claim of superiority over others. And why are we doing that? We're trying to deal with the insecurity that we feel we're trying to satisfy that insecurity, but we do it in the wrong ways, and that takes us to all of these junk theories of superiority where we often will lord over each other, and those are all illegitimate they're all false. And so we really do need to see ourselves clearly and come to terms with who we are and the insecurities that we feel, do you have any friends, for example, Junior, can you think of any friends that you have that are as flawed and imperfect as anyone else, but somehow some way they're comfortable presenting who they really are, they're okay with that, they've come to peace with themselves, isn't that refreshing, just the humility that they display, they understand their weaknesses and flaws and faults and shortcomings, but they're okay with that they're striving, but they're not trying to put on a false front, there's no pretense in them.

0:27:05.1 Junior: Yeah I do know people like that, and I do have friends like that. I think one of the distinguishing characteristics of those that behave that way is that they stare right into their imperfections and their weaknesses, they acknowledge them, they know what they are, and paradoxically, or maybe it's just obvious that that is actually what enables them to stand with So much confidence, because they're not worried about being found out, there's not something that they're trying to hide, that they're self-conscious about and worried that people are going to discover someone might tell them, Haha, this certain thing about you, or this certain piece of the way that you look or, I know this about your life, and they're not worried about that. They would respond," Oh yeah, I already know that."

0:28:02.8 Tim: That's who I am...

0:28:05.1 Junior: Awesome. And so on the flip side, those who try so hard to present themselves a certain way are also the people who will use denial to cover up something that they're not super proud of, or they won't acknowledge that it's something that they need to get better at. They'll pretend to always have the answers, and... Those people are not fun to be around.

0:28:35.6 Tim: No.

0:28:39.8 Junior: Most recently, just yesterday, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine and we were talking about a topic, and my friend responded to one of my questions... "That's a really good question. I don't know," and this was right down the middle of his expertise, which I thought was really interesting, and so he wasn't trying to be defensive of like, "This is my area, I know everything about it, and come hell or high water, I'm gonna give you an answer."Like, "Oh, I'm not sure." And he was so confident in just saying that you didn't know... So in answer to your question, I do know people in both camps, and the ones that I like to spend time around are the ones that have reached another stage of comfort with themselves because of just how keenly they're aware of their imperfections.

0:29:23.1 Tim: It seems that then a corollary principle that would be that there would be a positive correlation between humility and your listening skills.

0:29:36.4 Junior: For sure.

0:29:38.8 Tim: And that you would become a better listener over time. Have you ever sat down with someone it could be a friend or an acquaintance, or someone, and they just can't stop talking and they have to fill the air waves and the airtime. And they take the oxygen out of the room. And it's just incessant, and it comes from insecurity, this propensity, this inclination to just be constantly talking, and if you're constantly talking, you're not tuned in to the people around you, and you're not listening because you're spending all of your time talking. At some point, it's great if you're a great conversationalist and you're engaging and you can tell great stories and you're funny and all of those things, that's great, but at some point, it's going to get in the way, at some point, it's preventing you from seeing things clearly, right, so I'm just thinking about that connection between humility and listening, there's a behavioral implication that says, "You're going to listen more and you're going to listen better... "

0:30:58.6 Junior: Well, the only way that you could behave the way you're describing defensively would be if you are omniscient and no one is, and so you're trying to understand the reality in front of you, if you're not getting feedback from people other than you, then you will never get there... And what becomes very dangerous about this is that you become increasingly isolated because as you just talk and you don't listen, people will be less and less willing to engage with you, they'll be less willing to insert into a conversation, and they won't even wanna try and go toe to toe with you because they know that your tendency is just to keep talking anyway. And so what does that do over time you become increasingly isolated, and what does that mean? It means you become increasingly ignorant to the truth, you become increasingly ignorant to reality, that's a very, very dangerous thing, and yet I see people in my life that do that all the time.

0:31:58.3 Tim: So then Junior arrogance and hubris, the opposite of humility eventually, and inevitably lead to wilful blindness. How can they not? Because you're not taking in the feedback, you're not taking in the inputs, and so isolation, you will suffer the consequences of isolation sooner or later. That's where you go.

0:32:27.0 Junior: Yeah, you can see how dangerous that is on a personal level certainly on a professional level, institutionally, if organizations do this and they don't accept feedback, and the market shifts, which is going to... You can lose really fast, so we've talked about what humility is, we've talked about the fact that we don't have enough of it, we've talked about the fact that we want more of it, so now what do we do? If that's our situation, what can we do to improve the degree of our humility, number one, consume a steady diet of un-diluted feedback, and then act on the feedback. Here's a quote from Narendra saying, The CEO of top coder, he said in an interview, "the leaders I've admired the most over the years weren't afraid of being challenged, some people say they wanna be challenged, but then they wanna be challenged only in a way that makes them look like the smartest person in the room, that was off-putting for me, and I wanted to make sure people never felt that way dealing with me, if I have somebody working for me who's really good, I should lose 80% of the arguments I have with them, because they know their area better than I do, people have to feel that the best idea wins."

0:33:37.1 Junior: So I liked the last piece of this, which is where he said, "I should lose 80% of the arguments, and we have with them... " To me, that 80% I thought about that. I'm like, What percentage of arguments am I losing with people who understand their areas better than I do, I really ask myself this question... Right, one of two things is true. If they don't know their area better than I do, then I'm hiring poorly... So it's my fault. And two, if they do know their area better than I do and I'm winning all of these arguments, then what does that mean? That means inevitably, if they know their area better than I do and we're talking about an issue specific to their area that I'm like, I'm doing something, I'm forcing my way through I'm strong-arming, I'm coercing... I'm doing something right, because I look at my number. My number's not 80%. Maybe it should be 80%. So that was an eye-opener for me.

0:34:32.9 Tim: I like that. Well, I think it's also related Junior to the pattern that as you become more humble as a leader and a manager of people, if you're a people leader, you're going to be shifting increasingly over time from advocacy to inquiry, you're going to be leading through inquiry, you're going to be leading through questions, that's what you're going to do, you're engaging with your people, you're drawing them out, you're summoning their skills and abilities and experience and knowledge and competency, and you're trying to draw that out, that's your job, and you're doing that with humility as the attitude... And people can feel that they can see that. They can experience that. And so the feedback that you get, you're gonna get more... It's gonna be higher quality. It's gonna be less filtered. Think about all the benefits.

0:35:36.1 Junior: Well, as we're talking, I'm thinking about the inquiry to advocacy ratio, and it's dawning on me that that's very tightly correlated with our level of humility, because if we're just stuck in advocacy mode, then we're not getting the feedback, and the reality that we're looking at may be distorted, because we're not getting the feedback. And so that's another point is to ratchet that ratio up and inquire more advocate less, probably very indicative of how humble we are, so that's number one, consume a steady diet of un-diluted feedback and then act on the feedback, act on the feedback is an important qualifier it's not enough to just get it... You have to act on it. Don't dodge it. Square up to it. Next, never forget where you came from. I was thinking about this one, and I thought that it was appropriate. It's something that's most useful for me, at some point, you were more ignorant than you are today, you were less skilled, you had less resource, you had worse information, and acknowledging that journey, I think is very helpful because... What does it mean? I think about, okay, 10 years ago, I was more ignorant than I am today, what does that mean if I've increased in knowledge and skill and wisdom over time, then it also means that there's a future me who would say the same thing about me today, that would look back and say, "You were more ignorant.

0:37:12.7 Junior: You were less skilled. You had less resource." And so that shows me, okay, there's a gap between where I am today, where Future Me is what will enable me to close that gap, it's everything that we're talking about today. And so that to me is so much motivation to be humble, just acknowledging that there's a future version of you that's better, and if that's true, then there are some things that you need to work on today and you can't... Otherwise, what's the assumption? The assumption then is that any future you is the same or worse than you are today, that's the alternative, no one wants that, no one wants to plateau for decades, so... Okay, well, if our aspiration is to get better, then we inherently acknowledge that we're not there yet and we have work to do.

0:38:02.0 Tim: Yeah. And humility becomes the enabling virtue that allows you to do that.

0:38:07.2 Junior: Yep. Precisely. So, Tim, I'm interested, I have a couple stories that I want to share. I'm wondering if you have any stories about humility in your own life or experiences as you've worked with leaders, with organizations. Are there any patterns that you see or things that you'd like to share? 

0:38:27.6 Tim: There are some patterns. I was reflecting, knowing that we were gonna talk about this topic. I was reflecting on all of the executives that I've worked with over the last 20 years and we're in the business of pattern recognition, Junior. That's what we do. And so I was thinking about leaders as it relates to humility in some of the patterns that I've seen. Let me mention, I don't know, two or three. So here's one, the humble leaders, this may sound a little ironic, but they develop a pattern where they correct others faster and with more candor. But the feedback is given in the spirit of real concern. So they don't hesitate, they hesitate less, they give the feedback right when it's needed. They give it faster, but with more candor and more concern, more humility, compassion, empathy.

0:39:31.5 Tim: Now related to that, here's another pattern, they praise genuinely and specifically not gratuitously. I've seen some leaders that do the opposite. They praise profusely so as to be seen as generous, or they praise sparingly out of resentment, or because they think that praise is a scarce resource. So watch the way people use praise and recognition. That pattern reflects humility or hubris, just that. Here's another pattern. The humble leaders are less hurt and less provoked by careless and mean-spirited acts, which they're on the receiving end of those as well. Give you an example, so in one case, I remember a leader, an arrogant leader, cutting off a humble leader in a group discussion. And the arrogant leader was attempting to establish dominance with this tiresome alpha male behavior. And the humble leader just patiently deferred. And then you could just watch everyone else in the room as their eyes rolled. You could see the body language that, "okay, when is he going to be done so that we can move on?"

0:41:00.3 Tim: And they could all see what was happening here. The theater of human interaction was right there, and they could see it. Here's another pattern that I see. The humble leaders are more kind and yet, more demanding at the same time. Now that's interesting. So these are humble, effective leaders. Let me just qualify that Junior, these are humble, very effective leaders that have evolved as leaders to really a world-class level. They delegate more with the understanding that people grow only when they leave their comfort zones and travel to their outer limits. And they realize that stretching, because they put a lot of stretch in the goals they give people. They realize that stretching is both painful but also exhilarating. And that's the only place where people can build new capacity. So they're pretty good at stretching people and pushing them, moving them out of their comfort zones, but they do that in a kind and demanding way. Isn't that interesting? So again, we're combining attributes or approaches, which may seem paradoxical. So I'm going to be kind and yet more demanding at the same time. Those are a few patterns that I've observed.

0:42:20.0 Junior: Those are poignant. Being able to demand more and being kind at the same time, that's elusive. And that's something that I hope to be able to do. As I was thinking about this topic and my experience, some of the patterns that I've seen, I think one of the ways that we can see how we're doing is by how we're interacting with people that are being ethos, for lack of a better phrase, in a hierarchy. And let me explain what I mean. Years ago, I was 17, I was finishing up high school where I had just finished, and I was in between my senior year of high school and going to college and I was working two jobs. And to this point in my life, I'd never worked so much. I would work from open at six o'clock in the morning at a sports medicine clinic and then I would go and I would close at barbecue.

0:43:26.1 Junior: These weren't glamorous jobs and I didn't work that schedule every day, but I worked that schedule many days. And there were several weeks that were 60 hour weeks of pretty much just manual labor, which is a lot. At least it was for me at that point. And I worked as a busboy in this barbecue. And I learned very quickly that I was at the bottom of the totem pole. No one knew who I was. No one owed me anything. And I learned very quickly that a lot of people don't treat people like people. And this was one of the most poignant experiences that I ever had across many months. And when I think about humility, I often put myself back in the shoes of this teenage busboy who I was at the time that just wanted a little bit of acknowledgement, that just wanted a little bit of encouragement because I was doing my best.

0:44:19.5 Junior: And I would see these people around me, and often someone knocks a drink over and they just look at you like, what are you gonna do? Come clean this up. And you'd get a lot of disrespect. But one time I remember, I'll never forget this, I remember there was a guy that was eating with what seemed to be his whole family, like a couple generations. And so probably had his... Some children and some grandchildren there and maybe a dozen people, I don't know. And I was helping clean one of the tables that was next to him and take some plates off of his table. And he completely disengaged from what he was doing with the people around him, faced me and told me that I was doing a really good job. And he gave me a $10 bill.

0:45:09.6 Tim: Wow.

0:45:10.5 Junior: Which at the time that may have well been a thousand dollars. I had never got a $10 tip. Like 10 bucks, that has a lot of money. And that's all it took. But one of the things that I distinctly remember is it wasn't just offhand, it wasn't, he just didn't just like oh, slip me this and say, "Hey, thanks." He literally stopped what he was doing, faced me as if no one else was there and said, "Hey, you're doing a really great job." And so when I think about humility, like I'm just some lowly busboy, and this guy is a customer at this restaurant and he didn't have to treat me like that. But that's all it took for me to feel acknowledged. And it makes me think how many people are there around us that we don't acknowledge, that we don't treat that way? 

0:46:05.5 Junior: And that's truly a measure of our humility, I think is understanding the truth. So the truth of that situation is what? The truth of that situation is that you're a human and I'm a human. And that is the commonality that we share. So how about we put everything else to the side and engage with each other as humans, because what else is there? Well, it's everything that we don't want. It's distance between us that's socially constructed. It's, I want to put myself ahead, above, in front of like, that's what we're trying to do otherwise, and we're jockeying for position and it's unnecessary. So I was just thinking about that this week and it's really had an effect on the way that I've engaged with people I think just this week. And I had a young man come knock on my door who was selling something, selling a service and how often, what do I normally do in that situation? Just very quickly, like not interested. How can I get outta this situation as soon as possible? 

0:47:12.3 Junior: But I had been thinking about this topic and so I just engaged this kid for a couple of minutes and we had such a meaningful interaction as meaningful an interaction you can have on a doorstep. But like, I think that he went away feeling better just some acknowledgement. And I just said, "Hey I'm not interested right now, but just I want to acknowledge the fact that you're out here knocking doors. Like, good for you."

0:47:36.8 Tim: Yeah, perfect poignant.

0:47:37.7 Junior: "I appreciate the work that you're putting in and I hope that you can make some sales today." That doesn't take that much energy. It doesn't.

0:47:47.3 Tim: No.

0:47:47.8 Junior: And it doesn't take that much time either. But like we both walk away I think feeling much better. So I apologize for the monologue there, but those are some things that have been on my mind.

0:47:57.9 Tim: That's brilliant Junior. So that interaction, how long was that brief interaction that you had with that gentleman back when you were a busboy, how long? 

0:48:06.6 Junior: It was 10 seconds talk.

0:48:09.7 Tim: 10 seconds? 

0:48:10.1 Junior: Yeah.

0:48:10.5 Tim: And you remember it to this day, it's very vivid in your memory.

0:48:14.6 Junior: Yeah, just 10 seconds.

0:48:15.8 Tim: All these years later.

0:48:17.3 Junior: And years later I remember it clears day.

0:48:19.6 Tim: It's so amazing. So a litmus test then is for humility Junior, based on what you're saying, a litmus test is that, or a question, do you treat people differently based on their demographics? 

0:48:30.8 Junior: Yeah.

0:48:31.7 Tim: Based on their socioeconomic status? Do you treat them differently based on what they can do or not do for you? Does your behavior change? Does your approach change? Does the way you interact change? 

0:48:45.2 Junior: Yeah.

0:48:46.7 Tim: That's a sobering question that we need to ask ourselves.

0:48:48.8 Junior: It is. So next one, use simple language. I love this one. Communicate with the intent to be understood, not to draw attention to yourself. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE said, "self-confident people don't need to wrap themselves in complexity and all that clutter that passes for sophistication in business." Self-confident leaders produce simple plans, speak simply and propose big clear targets.

0:49:19.3 Tim: I really like that.

0:49:20.3 Junior: Oh, isn't that great? 

0:49:22.2 Tim: Yeah.

0:49:23.7 Junior: I checked myself against this one because yeah, so much of the clutter, I love that word that passes for sophistication. You get past that to this point where just simple plants use simple words and big clear targets, amazing.

0:49:42.2 Tim: It is amazing.

0:49:43.1 Junior: And this one, this one's pretty easy to tease out. If you're in a room for long enough, go to your next meeting and just pay attention to the language that other people are using, and then your own language. And there's probably a percentage of things that are coming outta your mouth that are just fluff. Just fluff, acronyms that you don't need to use. Just buzzwords that you do not need to include. Just plain, simple, get to the point. That's actually the most sophisticated form of speech. And it takes some real skill to be able to communicate that effectively. And I think that the target, usually the curve that I see is that you start simple and then as you start learning more and you gain experience and you're introduced to new phraseology and buzzwords and acronyms, you start to integrate those, and then there's a level of people that get past that, that become so good that okay, now like I realize I don't need to use any of that and we're back to simplicity.

0:50:44.9 Tim: That's right.

0:50:46.5 Junior: And so, if you can forecast out and just understand that that's the typical curve, skip the middle, and just simplicity all the way through.

0:50:55.2 Tim: Yeah. I agree with that. Clarity's more powerful anyway, but I guess there's a temptation to move from clarity to flattery and we're always being pulled maybe in that direction a little bit out of ego. Ego concerns. And so we have to check ourselves, don't we? We really do.

0:51:13.9 Junior: Next, develop a high tolerance for candor. On a scale from 1 to 10, what is your tolerance for candor? You mentioned in the book that you've asked people this question before, leaders, and you encouraged them not to give you a knee-jerk response, but rather to go home, think about it, ponder it, and really be intentional about the answer that you give and the number that you would describe as your tolerance for candor. So that's part of our invitation today, is to ask yourselves that question. On a scale from 1 to 10, what is your tolerance for candor? And I think that if we're open and honest about what that number might be, we'll see just how much distance there is to where we need to get to.

0:52:02.0 Tim: Yeah.

0:52:02.9 Junior: Okay. Last is achieve the final stage of confidence. And this goes out especially to all of our high performers out there. I know we got a lot of listeners in the podcast that would probably describe themselves as high performers. So this part becomes pretty interesting. The final stage of confidence you describe as an elite, the final measure of humility in the conquest of ego. And that it's a hard place to get to, especially if you have a track record of high achievement that suggests that you know what you're doing. This is why I'm calling out the high performers. So business theorist, Chris, I'm gonna mess up his last name, Argyris wrote, "because many professionals are almost always successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure. So whenever their single loop learning strategies go wrong, they become defensive, screen out criticism, and put the blame on anyone and everyone but themselves. In short, their ability to learn shuts down precisely at the moment they need it most."

0:53:10.7 Tim: Oh, isn't that a great statement? 

0:53:12.2 Junior: Oh, that last sentence is amazing. And calling back to that first part of the podcast, we're talking about bouncing back from failure. After we've made some mistakes, what enables this? Well, if you, and so much of our infrastructure has incentivized this, we're socialized in a way that you try to move as far away from failure as possible, and you've been optimized to just succeed.

[laughter]

0:53:44.3 Junior: When that failure does come, what's the learning strategy? And so often, instead of diving right into discovery and learning, we instead move toward defense and we're trying to screen out the criticism. We're trying to put the blame on anyone and everyone but themselves. And this is one of my tendencies is to, okay, something goes wrong, it's like, well, defense, like, okay, we gotta be on defense. And how can you move away from that? Look at a failure, unpack it, and really try to learn. I love that. I love that statement.

0:54:27.5 Tim: Well, think about the liability, Junior, just to mention that or go over that statement again. Their ability to learn shuts down precisely, precisely at the moment they need it the most, that's potentially catastrophic.

0:54:45.6 Junior: Yep it is. Okay, so here are some behaviors that characterize people who have achieved this final stage of confidence. There are a couple in here that I wanna call out. They don't need to hear themselves talk, so they don't clamor for airtime. They stop telling the world how smart they are. They don't subscribe to the leader as expert model in which the leader is the repository of all knowledge. They value the appreciation and recognition of their peers when it's meaningful, but it's not a requirement. This is one of my favorite sections. They have learned that leadership often requires that we go for long periods and long distances without reward or recognition that we toil in obscurity, and that due credit might come, but it might not. Final stage leaders learn to fuel their efforts through intrinsic rewards. They learn that achievement carries its own compensation. Wow.

0:55:42.2 Tim: That's not easy because you're faced with a prospect that, as you said, reward and recognition may come, it may not. Can you handle that? Do you have the ability to toil on obscurity to develop that kind of stamina and that endurance, emotional and mental and psychological stamina, it's not easy.

0:56:05.8 Junior: Well, and then you marry that with the next point, which is this. At the same time, final stage leaders don't deflect recognition with false modesty. They're not coy or demure. They are grateful for accurate and deserved recognition. I love that that's balanced out. I really think that that's important because you can go the other way and it becomes equally pernicious where we now get into this place of false modesty. There's zero recognition, and I think that that can become very damaging. And I think that that can erode confidence too. And so there's this middle ground that I think is healthy. Okay. Lastly, let's acknowledge this. Humility is often the difference between a good leader and a great leader. And this speaks to that difference that is unachievable without humility. Here's what it is. Humility unlocks another level of feedback that most others don't have access to.

0:57:09.3 Junior: And if I could distill out why this is so powerful when it comes to performance, this is it. It's early ideas, it's personal critiques, and it's information that for other leaders, people keep hold of it, but for you, they might unleash it. That I think is the biggest difference. And so if you're looking at changes in internal to an organization, external to the marketplace, you're dependent upon information. And getting some of that that's higher quality and earlier, I think helps you move so much faster and become so much better. So think about that as we close up as humility being the difference between a good leader and a great leader. It would follow that you cannot become a truly great leader without that level of humility.

0:58:02.7 Tim: Junior, I think you've made a... There's a profound point here, which I think we would all do well to reflect on, and let me just repeat it that humility is the difference maker. Why? Because it has the ability to, as you said, "unlock another level of feedback that otherwise you will not have access to, and perhaps most other people do not have access to." But humility is the key that unlocks that, and there's no other way to get it. Otherwise, it's beyond your reach. You can't lay claim to it, but with humility, you can. It's accessible. It becomes accessible to you.

0:58:47.7 Junior: Thomas Jefferson said, if you want what you never had, you must do what you have never done. I think that's true of humility. If you want more humility that you've never had, you have to do what you've never done. And so that may be for you to use simpler language. It may be for you to remember where you came from to consume a more steady diet of feedback and then act on the feedback. It could be to develop a higher level, a higher tolerance for candor. So whatever it is for you, I'd encourage you to think about that and then go and do it. See if you can become a little bit better as it relates to humility, because it really is the difference between being a good leader and getting to that next level of being truly great. Tim, many last thoughts as we wrap up? 

0:59:36.6 Tim: Just repeat the fundamental definition, or at least one of them that we started with that humility is the unresented acknowledgement of two things, your dependency on others and your ignorance. And those two things go together. Hopefully, that provides sufficient motivation to move into a state of humility and stay there because the potential benefits are so large and the potential liabilities of not moving into a place of humility are also very significant. Yeah.

1:00:09.7 Junior: Well, everybody thank you for listening to another podcast. It's been an absolute pleasure. I've really enjoyed today's conversation and it's left me with a whole bunch to think about. We appreciate you, your time and attention, and we're thankful for the work that you do in the world, and we're here to support you. As always, we appreciate your likes, your reviews, and your shares. Take care everyone. We'll be back for the next episode. See you next week. Bye-bye.

[music]

1:00:42.0 Producer: Hey, Culture by Design listeners, this is the end of today's episode. You can find all the important links from today's episode at leaderfactor.com/podcast. And if you've found today's episode helpful and useful in any way, please share with a friend and leave a review. If you'd like to learn more about Leader Factor and what we do, then please visit us at leaderfactor.com. Lastly, if you'd like to give any feedback to the Culture by Design podcast or even request a topic from Tim and Junior, then reach out to us at info@leaderfactor.com or find and tag us on LinkedIn. Thanks again for listening and making Culture something you do by design, not by default.

Show Notes

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

Episode Transcript

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

Recent Episodes

The 6 Domains of Emotional Intelligence: Believe, Know, and Do

Published
February 26, 2024

What Do You Do With a Toxic Leader?

Published
February 19, 2024

The Leadership Journey Part Three: Leads the Business

Published
February 12, 2024