Jim Collins, in Good to Great, describes Level 5 leaders as combining humility with ambition, fierce competitiveness, and a drive to maximize results. This makes great sense in theory, but in practice it is the rare leader who achieves this delicate balance.
At least in part, this is because the values and personality characteristics of humble leaders are different from those of ambitious and competitive leaders:
- Humble leaders tend to have a level of ambition that allows them to take charge but also are comfortable letting others lead when appropriate. Ambitious leaders often have great difficulty not taking charge.
- Humble leaders generally have a moderate to high level of interpersonal sensitivity i.e. the ability to understand how others perceive them and to be empathetic and responsive to the needs of others. Highly competitive leaders often lack interpersonal awareness and may not even know they are perceived as competitive (or arrogant).
- Humble leaders tend to be more measured risk takers. They “look before they leap”. Bold, ambitious, and mischievous leaders are more willing to take “bet the company” risks that either lead to big wins (think Steve Jobs) or end up having huge negative consequences.
- Humble leaders are motivated by team and organization success. Bold leaders may be driven by personal success.
Coaching helps leaders find a balance between humility and boldness (ambition), whatever their innate tendency. When working with leaders who are more naturally bold (and may risk being perceived as arrogant), we focus on:
- Learning to admit mistakes and limitations
- Not coming across as the smartest person in the room
- Spotlighting other’s contributions (vs. their own)
- Listening to and learning from others
- Tempering the ability to stand alone with valuing the perspective and involvement of others
- Demonstrating authentic care and concern for others, both personally and professionally
- Focusing on the team and organization rather than themselves
Leaders who are more naturally humble often need to work on:
- Articulating a clear vision for their organization
- Recognizing when it is time to stop consulting and decide on behalf of the team or organization
- Holding direct reports accountable for meeting goals
- Recognizing when it is necessary to terminate an underperforming executive
- Understanding that the risk of not acting is often at least as great as making a decision that turns out to be suboptimal or needs to be changed in the future
Finding the balance between humility and ambition is difficult. It begins with clear awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and a clear view of how you are perceived by others. A professional coach will use valid and reliable assessments to gather this information and then help you to build and execute a plan for leveraging your strengths and building skills at using less developed parts of your personality.
If you are finding it challenging to deliver on the right balance between humility and boldness, call me at 612-327-4030 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to discuss your unique challenges and how a coach at The Bailey Group can partner with you on this leadership development challenge.