There are those that lead with ego, and there are those that lead with humility. Which are the most successful leaders? Let’s look at history.
Leading with ego, we all have a list that jumps to mind because you’ve probably known or worked for these leaders. I immediately think of Ken Lay of ENRON fame and Joe Nacchio of USWest, leaders that led for personal purpose and gain and not for organizational good. This is not to say ego is a bad trait in a leader, but it is to say that ego can impair purpose or value-driven leadership. A good or great leader must have a strong ego to be a leader. They must honestly believe that they have earned the right to lead others.
So when does good leadership ego transition to bad leadership ego? If we can all agree that ego is a good thing, what is the tipping point where it turns to be counterproductive?
When did President Nixon switch from a good leader to a disgraced leader? When did the traits that got Ken Lay or Joe Nacchio to the pinnacle of their career cause them to fall hard?
Their egos took over their values and purpose. When their mission and purpose became centered around them, their personal needs, goals or aspirations and not about the common or corporate good, the tipping point Was reached. Think about Richard Nixon, a highly regarded statesman, legislator and Vice President to a disgraced President. Consider Ken Lay and Joe Nacchio, two highly regarded corporate executives that were able to negotiate the complex organizational hierarchy to attain the roles of President, CEO, and Chairman – only to fall…
What did they seem to have in common?
The minute a leader begins to believe their press or begins to lead for personal gain the fall starts. The first attribute they compromise is the purpose – the reason they have been extended the power of position. Purpose is our compass that keeps us pointed to True North.
The second thing to erode is their values. Values are what we use hourly to help us make decisions. Nixon approved illegal breaking and entry to guarantee his election chances. Ken Lay allowed his accounting to count unearned income as revenue. Joe Nacchio was willing to risk the integrity of the company for personal gain.
So, we know ego driven leadership is, in the long run, unhealthy, how does leading with humility fit in today’s business world?
First, let’s define what a humble leader looks like:
1. They are purpose driven. Their purpose is for common good and improvement outside of themselves. Their compass is set on True North.
2. They lead with consistent values. Their values are the guiding principles they use to direct all decisions. Their values are visible and transparent. Their strategies and tactics can change, but their values don’t change. Their values are not flexible or subject to revision due to business, environmental or personal conditions.
Understanding what a humble leader looks like helps us learn how they decide, do and direct for the good of the whole and not the good of self. They understand that knowledge is power but shared knowledge has greater power. They understand success is a team effort to be shared with all contributors, small and large. They understand the highest acclaim they can receive is the success of those they lead or the project they are on; they thrive in the glow of the success of the organization or project.
Think of a leader that you respect and ask yourself these questions, “Did they lead with ego or with humility?” Now ask yourself, “How successful was this team?” And last, “What kind of leader do you want to work for or become, an ego-driven or a humble leader?”
Leading takes courage, but it also requires a purpose compass that is set to True North and a value set you want to be engraved on your tombstone.