Recently, I was in a meeting with a team from SHRM-Atlanta. We were planning sessions for the coming year and brainstorming on how to improve one of our offerings. With some hesitation, I made a suggestion that was outside of the box. The group was silent for a brief moment and then Mary Lynn, the leader of our team said, “That’s a great idea.” Repeating herself, she again said, “Jack, that is a GREAT idea.” Springboarding off her affirmation, we then agreed to follow-up and work toward implementing it.
I’ve contemplated Mary Lynn’s response and found it refreshing. It’s not just that I was gratified she liked MY idea; It’s was her openness to embracing an idea that was not her own. Some titled-leaders expose their insecurities by a failure to seize the opportunity to grow and expand via the ideas of others. We have all worked with them somewhere along our journeys. Great leaders navigate by facilitating the ideas of others.
Great Leaders L – E – A – R – N
In this one brief interaction Mary Lynn exhibited all four of the previous attributes of great leaders shared in this series on Great Leaders L – E – A – R –N. As an effective leader she LISTENed to the opinion of our team members. She ENGAGEd the team in the learning process by exhibiting an open mind to new ideas. By approving the idea, she ALLOWed the others on the team to exercise leadership through implementation. And by publicly complimenting the idea, she REWARDed us for our creativity. The result is the successful NAVIGATION of the organization.
A failure to listen is a symptom of arrogance which can take an organization off course. When leaders are too proud to listen to their team, engage their team and allow their team to run with leadership and to get credit for their contributions they steer the organization into the ditch. Worse, they may kill it. Jim Collins in How the Might Fall illustrates this well.
True to his M.O., Collins takes abundant data and shares insights on business. He describes the five stages of decline a business or organization will go through on its way into oblivion. Zenith, Motorola, Circuit City, Zayre, Ames and A&P are just a few of the organizations which provided the research material.
Collins states Stage 1 like this: Hubris Born of Success. In case you are like me and don’t use “hubris” everyday, you might appreciate knowing hubris is “arrogance and excessive pride.”
Leaders who have allowed hubris to take root lose their focus on learning; After all, they already know whatever it is they need to know. The proud leaders lose their focus on the “why?” of their organization. They begin wearing entitlement. Worst of all, they overestimate their own merit and capabilities, believing they are the sole reason they have become successful.
When hubris is allowed to swell, devastation looms. When it continues unchecked, it kills. That is why many of us shop at Publix and not A&P. This is why we all know Walmart, but we scratch our heads when we hear of Ames and Zayre. I grew up watching TV on a Zenith-the only brand my dad would buy. Now they sit in antique stores. Pride & arrogance are the first steps organizations take toward the grave. As King Solomon wrote, Pride comes before destruction.
Great leaders are leaders who are not too proud to LEARN.