Humility in Leadership

In my work as a leadership coach, I find that clients who make the most progress reaching their full potential are those who are able to acknowledge their weaknesses, and are secure in accepting the help to overcome them. This requires humility, and growing one’s humility leads to greater leadership.

The word humility is often defined as low self-esteem, self-degradation and meekness. When adults are asked to recount an experience of humility, they will often tell a story about a time when they were publicly humiliated. The word is weighted in weakness and negativity.

Humility is ultimately about being honest: Seeing and accepting yourself for who you really are and projecting that outward. This means obtaining an accurate understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses as well as the courage and tenacity to continue to grow. Know thyself and keep a beginner’s mind.

Humility is not about self-abasement or devaluing your own worth. In fact, to be genuinely humble requires enormous self-respect, according to Bob Burg and John David Mann in their book The Go-Giver Leader: A Little Story About What Matters Most in Business. “Self-respect is where every other kind of respect comes from. Respect from others is a reflection, not the source.”

If you want respect from others, you must first respect yourself. Trust won’t come from others until you fully trust yourself. This is an important point as you cannot seek something from others that you don’t already feel on your own. As the authors point out: You can’t ask the moon to make the sun shine.

“People with humility do not think less of themselves; they just think about themselves less,” writes Ken Blanchard in his book The One Minute Manager. Humility is the very opposite of narcissism, hubris and other forms of pride.

Yet far too often, being humble—like being vulnerable—is absent from most descriptions of what makes a great leader. And you won’t find humility taught in business schools.

As I wrote in an earlier post, humility in leadership requires listening well, admitting mistakes and promoting others. In this selfie-obsessed, social media-focused time we find ourselves, it certainly seems to run counter to cultural norms. And perhaps that is exactly why we need it so desperately in our leaders.

Increasing one’s humility is a challenging process. George Washington struggled his entire life to become and stay humble. As a young man, his ego was enormous and his ambition outstripped his many accomplishments. Yet he remained vigilant in his quest for this virtue.

How can you spot a leader who is not so humble? He or she is very likely intellectually arrogant and claims to have all the answers, and may even be threatened by new information that runs counter to what they already believe.

Researchers Bradley Owens and David Hekman studied humble leadership in every area from the military to manufacturing to ministry. They concluded that the hallmark of a humble leader is his or her willingness to admit their own limitations and mistakes.

As Owens and Hekman wrote in Academy of Management Journal, “Our findings suggest that humility appears to embolden individuals to aspire to their highest potential and enables them to make the incremental improvements necessary to progress toward that potential.”

It should come as little surprise then that humble leaders of organizations have less employee turnover, higher employee satisfaction, and better overall company performance.

Humility is what pushes us to become our best selves. And that is important in your growth as a leader.

Positive Morning Routine: Why it Matters

How do you start your day? It may very well determine whether you reach your goals.

Maybe because it’s back to school time, but I’m seeing a lot of articles, blog posts and podcasts related to “what successful people do every morning.”

All of us currently have a morning routine and most of us follow it without questioning whether it is helping or hampering our efforts to reach our goals. Those who start each day with deliberate, disciplined and mindful practice could very well be more successful in life.

So if you want to realize your dreams, perhaps it’s worth the effort to begin each day with the right physical regimen, mental discipline and emotional attitude. But what should it be?

In a widely circulated video on social media, US Navy Admiral William H. McRaven says if you want to change the world, start off each day by making your bed. This little task provides you with the motivation throughout the day for accomplishing other tasks. And, even when your day doesn’t go so well, he says you will always have the satisfaction of at least going to sleep in a well-made bed.

Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, recommends the following tweaks to your morning routine in order to be more productive throughout the day:

  • Drink lemon water
  • Exercise or mediate before eating
  • Eat a healthy breakfast
  • Set realistic and achievable goals for the day

On this last one, Bradberry says research has shown that having concrete goals is directly correlated with huge increases in confidence and feelings of being in control. And it’s important that these goals are not vague, but specific to each day as it puts everything into motion.

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, practices these five items that help him win the day:

  • Make your bed
  • Mediate (10 – 20 minutes)
  • Do 5 to 10 reps of something (less than 60 seconds)
  • Prepare and drink Titanium Tea
  • Write Morning Pages or 5-minute journal

In these Morning Pages, Ferriss suggests responding to the following prompts: “I am grateful for . . . , What would make today great?, and Daily Affirmations: I am . . .“ In the evening, he suggests answering the following: “3 amazing things happened today and How could I have made today better?” This intentional practice can help you focus in the morning and reflect at the end of each day.

Whether you are prepared to switch from coffee to lemon water or Titanium Tea is really beside the point. What’s vital is that you embrace the importance of your approach to each morning in order to facilitate just how productive you’ll be the rest of the day. And you can choose to embrace a discipline that will help you reach your goals.

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect is to ensure you are getting a good night’s rest. This cannot be emphasized enough. If you are not getting enough sleep, you will not be motivated to stick to any routine and you will likely be depleted of the vital energy you need no matter how much caffeine you consume.

Healthy Breakfast
The next should be a given: the most important meal of the day. You must fuel your body with appropriate nutrition to sustain your body until your next meal. You may protest that you don’t have time to prepare and eat a healthy breakfast, and therefore are able to rationalize that at least that Starbucks organic scone is much better than a Crispy Crème glazed donut. The reality is some foods will lift you up and sustain you while others only give you a quick dopamine hit and then leave you flat. Making the time for and choosing the healthier option is your choice.

Exercise/Meditation
Though I don’t feel like exercising in the morning, I’m a strong believer that exercise needs to be routine in order for it to become a habit. Putting it first in the morning ensures it doesn’t get put off or neglected. And by getting your blood pumping in the morning, you will have the vital energy and positive attitude you need to be most productive throughout the day. Gentle yoga or meditation can provide a similar boost without the physical exhilaration you find with a more rigorous workout.

Mindfulness
This could be simply acknowledging what you are truly grateful for at this particular time. Rather than rushing into organizing your brain around your responsibilities and tasks for the day, take the time to acknowledge and, if at all possible, express your gratitude to those to whom you are grateful. Then contemplate how you would approach this day if you knew it was the last day of your life. How can you live more deliberately and mindfully?

When you first wake up you set the tone for how you will approach the day. The more this becomes a positive routine, the more likely you are to maintain it. You may not feel the full effects of it for weeks, but eventually you will begin to notice that your body feels better and your overall disposition is working in your favor rather than against you.

And it may be as simple as making your bed.

Personal Integrity in Leadership

Now that the President’s manufacturing council has disbanded following a wave of defections, it’s worth exploring how personal integrity fits into leadership. At what point should a leader remove him- or herself from a situation where they feel their moral code is being challenged?

One could argue that with the exception of Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, who was the first to resign after President Trump’s tepid response to what transpired in Charlottesville, VA last weekend, those who resigned after him may have calculated the pros and cons of remaining on the council and chose to leave only after it was determined it would not negatively affect their corporate interests.

Many members of the advisory group stood with the president even as he advanced policies they vehemently opposed. One could argue that with both Trump’s ban on immigration from the Middle East (Uber’s Travis Kalanick) and the decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord (Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Bob Iger) CEOs who resigned from the manufacturing council or strategic and policy forum were taking a stand that was more directly related to their corporate interests than personal conscience.

But at what point should we expect our leaders to stand up for principles above profits? When should they put corporate values above shareholder value?  When should concern for Americans in general be more important than an organization’s products or services?

I believe Mr. Frazier answered this question very well.

“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” Mr. Frazier said in a statement on Monday. “As CEO of Merck, and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

It’s unfortunate the President chose to respond to this with a tweet essentially belittling Mr. Fraizer’s integrity by changing the subject and attacking his company over drug pricing.

In a way it’s also unfortunate that it took the only African-American member on the council to resign before others chose to follow suit. How can any leader with integrity passively condone statements that run counter to who they are as individuals? I believe this “personal conscience” should actually help guide the decision-making of those leading our organizations.

Leadership requires a level of personal integrity that employees, customers and shareholders can all rely upon. When leaders take a stand against what conflicts with their personal conscience, they courageously hold true to who they are. This personal choice to hold themselves to consistent moral and ethical standards is vital as they lead large organizations. And it is what separates great leaders from others.

When business leaders see it as morally compromising to take part on a President’s council, it is extremely important that they take a stand because they are in a position to do so. The leadership they demonstrate transcends quarterly financial reports. It is about personal integrity and that defines great leadership.

Now if only our Republican representatives could demonstrate the same kind of leadership.

Workplace Loyalty: A New Paradigm

      

Once there was a time when companies provided their employees with the security of lifetime employment. There was also a time when employees remained on the job despite opportunities to go elsewhere.

That relational dynamic has certainly changed as many employers moved towards outsourcing, automation, and—for all too many—a focus on increasing shareholder value over employee engagement and customer satisfaction. Many employers are no longer loyal to their workforce so it should come as little surprise that employees are not loyal to their companies.

Maybe it’s time for a new paradigm with regard to workplace loyalty. This is one where both employee and employer do their part to encourage greater loyalty. Employees should first and foremost be loyal to themselves, and employers should recognize that company loyalty can and should remain long after an employee leaves.

“Loyalty to self and company need not be either bound by employment or mutually exclusive,” writes Lee Caraher, author of The Boomerang Principle: Inspire Lifetime Loyalty from Your Employees. “Loyalty is a two-way street, and unless a company can prove to employees that it deserves their loyalty, it isn’t coming. Frankly, the business world has taught us all that we need to be loyal to ourselves first if we don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of a downsizing.”

This reminds me of the flight attendant’s advice before take-off: “Be sure to place your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.” To be your best self for others, you must first be your best self for yourself. And to truly love another person, you must first love yourself.

An example of this loyalty to self in the workplace can be simply recognizing when you are no longer fully engaged in your work and doing something about it. Options may include: 1) Determine and act upon what is within your power to change in order to become more engaged; 2) Have a discussion with your supervisor to determine what he or she can do to enable your higher engagement; 3) Seek other opportunities inside or outside the company where you can bring your best self to be fully engaged.

This self-loyalty has to do with being accountable for your part in the lower engagement you may be experiencing, and doing what is necessary in order to raise it. You are much more likely to be loyal to your company if you feel engaged in your work, and you can impact this.

At the same time, employers need to recognize that employee loyalty must be earned rather than assumed. Employers need to encourage workers by doing what they can to enable their full engagement.

And Caraher says employers need to let go of the old workplace loyalty notion and replace it with a mindset that employees can be loyal throughout their lives, whether they continue to be employed at the company or not.

The idea is that even ex-employees can be important ambassadors for your company and become partners, clients, customers, and referrals for all of those as well as potential new employees. Perhaps most importantly, if your former employees feel they were treated well while employed at your company and especially during their exit from it, they may very well end up coming back to work there again.

As the notion of workplace loyalty continues to evolve, it’s important that both employees and employers do their part to make it work. Loyalty should not be assumed or taken for granted, and it requires effort on both parties to continue.

Working Smarter in the Age of Distraction

We live in a world of constant distraction. The internet, text messaging and social media all play a part in this distraction and yet we willingly choose to let these interruptions keep us from fully engaging in our lives.

This is true not only in our free time, but in our workday as well. Employees are often getting sidetracked from the task at hand thereby undermining overall productivity.

According to a 2012 survey by Salary.com, one of the biggest culprits is internet surfing. The survey interviewed 3,200 people and found that more than two-thirds of employees regularly spend time surfing websites unrelated to work.

Specifically, 64 percent of employees say they visit non-work related websites every day. Of this group, 39 percent spend an hour or less per week, 29 percent two hours per week, 21 percent five hours per week, and three percent said they waste 10 or more hours each week doing activities online that are unrelated to their job.

Unsurprisingly, social media is the biggest destination for this distraction as the most off-task websites were Facebook (41 percent) and LinkedIn (37 percent). A full 25 percent admitted to shopping on Amazon during work hours.

While this is disturbing, it’s important to remember that not so long ago employees were mindlessly playing Solitaire as a way to escape and avoid working. Before that, personal calls, extended cigarette breaks, long lunches, and water cooler gossip kept employees from being optimally productive.

Respondents from the survey said the number one reason for this slacking at work was that they don’t feel challenged enough in their job. This was followed by they work too many hours, the company doesn’t give sufficient incentive to work harder, they are unsatisfied with their career (might explain why they are on LinkedIn), and they’re just bored.

Based on these justifications for internet surfing, it seems both employers and employees need to find ways to reduce this distraction and begin working smarter. So let’s take a look at each of the reasons individually.

  • Employees don’t feel challenged enough in their jobs. Underutilized resources are a problem that employers need to recognize and quickly correct. Granted some tasks are not very challenging and perhaps boring, but every job should also have opportunities for learning and developing new skills that can be stimulating and help raise employee engagement. Employees should make known where their interest and aptitude match an unmet need within the scope of their current position, and employers should provide opportunities for every employee to grow beyond the current position.
  • Employees are working too many hours. This seems like a lame excuse as if just being in the office means you are “working” too much. If employees can work smarter by being more productive during the workday and avoid distractions, it won’t be necessary to work too many hours. Employers need to own their part as well by implementing ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) as a way to measure productivity by results rather than simply the time employees are seated in their cubicles.
  • Company doesn’t provide enough incentive to work harder. The word “incentive’ may be code for an extrinsic reward in the form of compensation. While this could be the case, employees should take responsibility by demonstrating greater value in order to receive a promotion or raise. Employers should also find ways to incentivize employees with both intrinsic (corporate values, teamwork, etc.) and extrinsic (recognition, bonuses, etc.) forms of engagement.
  • Employees are unsatisfied with their career. The distraction of internet surfing during work hours should be a sign that you as an employee should take ownership of your situation and do something about it. If you are unsatisfied in your current position, you might consider applying for another opportunity either inside or outside of your organization. This may require further training or perhaps informational interviews about an entirely different career. Employers should also be on the lookout for dissatisfaction among employees by checking in regularly and providing them with the direction and support needed to keep them engaged.
  • Employees are bored. This also is about engagement as a fully engaged employee is not likely to be bored. Employees need to apply themselves and take ownership of what they can do within the scope of their job to make it interesting. Employers can also ensure that boring tasks are distributed among all employees so no one person is stuck doing something boring all day and every day.

The distractions are not going away and I suspect if the same survey were done today we would see an increase in all of these numbers. How we respond to these distractions is what matters.

Working smarter means employees take responsibility for optimizing their time at work and not wasting it being unproductive. Working smarter means employers provide the opportunities and support so their people feel appreciated, stimulated, and adequately incentivized to give their best.

While there will always be opportunities to escape from the task at hand, it is up to both employees and employers to find ways to encourage higher engagement so that distractions are less enticing to begin with.