“The work gets done through other people. I may have the title, but I’m not the boss. A lot of guys who do what I do consider themselves the quarterback — to use another football analogy — but the position I feel I’ve always played is the one of center, because the people who really know what they’re doing are the ones I’m going to hand the ball to, and then I’m going to run interference for them to actually get the work done.” — Chuck Christian, VP/CIO, St. Francis Hospital
The above is a great quote delivered during our webinar last week from a great man, and one that further hammers home another point Christian made during the event. In citing an observation from Jim Collins’ seminar work, “Good to Great,” he noted that the number one quality of great leaders is humility — the fact that, when asked about their success or that of the organization they led — they pointed to everyone but themselves as the reason.
Now, you may ask, and I think it’s a question worth examining — why are humble leaders more likely to find success than others? And before I answer, I want to note that it’s taken me a number of years to understand, as I started from the mistaken conception that, somehow, humility meant a lack of self-confidence or self-worth. How could one who lacks confidence in where he is going inspire others to follow? I can specifically remember talking to Dale Sanders at a past CHIME conference about this, as he tried to open my eyes.
I have come to understand that humility is anything but a lack of confidence. In fact, it is the height of it, for only one confident in both his ability to coolly evaluate competing recommendations and his power to decline adopting those from even the most powerful if he doubts their merits, will humbly solicit recommendations from key staff.
Humility means asking for the opinions of others because the leader knows they have something to offer, because he knows that no matter how enlightened his position, there are dark corners into which he cannot see. And it is only by asking others with different vantage points for their thoughts that he gets a true, 360-degree appreciation of the problem. This leads to a better understanding of the issue and, ultimately, a better decision.
And those key folks will only be willing to share their opinions if they are given some type of thanks, appreciation and/or credit for having produced the idea. Because what do we continually hear as the worst abuses of leadership or the most pernicious aspects of bureaucracy? It is that when new ideas are proffered, they are either ignored because they did not come from leadership, or stolen, with no credit given to the true author. It is in such situations, when a leader is infected with ego (“It must be my idea”) or insecurity (“I will not ask Jim for his thoughts because he’ll expect me to adopt them”) that all breaks down, that Christian’s football center goes from blocking to simply being in the way.
But if the leader doesn’t care who gets the credit, or rather, insists on the true author getting the credit for good ideas, they will flow throughout the organization, as everyone’s creative juices will be energized.
What’s become clear to me over the years is that Collins and Christian are right — it all starts will humility, the grease that makes an organization’s engine run smoothly. So the key question to ask yourself is: do you empower or inhibit? Do you need to be the star or are you happy to stand back and let others shine? Do you need to be the quarterback or are you happy being the center understanding that, though the crowd may not know your name, the quarterback sure does. Can you take pride in simply knowing that everyone knows his name? After all, when he scores, the crowd is still cheering.