This business environment is certainly teaching us the meaning of the word humility—the antonym of arrogance. How often do we see the quality of arrogance in our business leaders? Some might call this confidence. Being confident is a good quality, but being arrogant is not, particularly when you are leading others and have responsibility for organizations. So, do you think the Enron ethical issues were based upon arrogance? How about WorldCom? You betcha! “Arrogance” is to “humility” like “knowing all the answers” is to “seeking all the answers.” When we come to the table, knowing all the answers, we tip our hand as to how arrogant we are. When we come to the table to help our colleagues and followers seek the answers, then we are humble learners.
I would hazard a guess that a large percentage of any arrogance has been knocked out of us these past few months, like the starch being knocked out of our shirts. I know it has for me. Every time I have a conversation with one of my colleagues, they are reminding me of the word humility, the art of being humble. It is a difficult time for all of us. Business activity is down and prospects for improvement are guarded. The only saving grace is interest rates are at a 40-year low.
Jim Collins, the noted business author who has done a lot of work understanding what makes great organizations and great leaders would tell you that there is a dramatic shift from the I centric discussion to the they centric when he is interviewing great leaders. It is all about the others that make us successful. Our job as leaders of any organization is to be strong stewards by doing what is best for the organization today with the intent of leaving it substantially stronger when our term is over. If we are arrogant and are actions parallel our mindset, we may accomplish a number of short-term objectives, but most likely will leave a much weaker organization when our term is expired. That’s not leadership.
What do we do during these times to prepare for the future? Now is the time to reflect on the positive attributes of our lives and think about the future in terms of the current environment. Oh yes, this environment may delay us from achieving our dreams but we need to realize that much of success is showing up each day with a positive attitude. My Karate instructor once told me that our altitude is determined by our attitude. Even though we have had the starch kicked out of us, it is not a time to get disheartened. We can’t control the economy but we can control how we feel about it. If we walk around moaning and groaning about it, all we are doing is putting those around us and ourselves in a downward spiral. What will that accomplish? Use this humbling time to catch up on those activities that you have put off for months and years. You will be grateful you did.
“Three things prize above all: gentleness, frugality, and humility. For the gentle can be bold, the frugal can be liberal, and the humble can become leaders of men.”
— LAO TZU