In Good to Great Jim Collins talks about characteristics of leaders who have been successful at moving companies from being simply good at what they do, to being great at it. It strikes me that a couple of the attributes discussed in his research are especially important today. We all know that executive management is noted for sharp focus, attention to detail, and thinking and acting strategically; and we know that many good leaders exhibit a sense of humility that draws others to them. But how, specifically, are strength of will and humility linked, and what is the value of that linkage in today’s environment?
On the one hand, it takes strong will to turn an organization in a new direction, make difficult decisions and see them through, or hold yourself and others accountable. It is this strength of will that allows leaders to press on in the face of long odds, and it is often this strength of will alone which makes eventual success first possible, then plausible.
On the other hand, humility can also be one of a leader’s greatest assets. It is humility that fosters a sense of team and embraces calm and determination. It is humility that enables a leader to view his or her success based on the success of others; allowing them to be encouraged, first by the sharing of credit, and later to take the lead on tough issues. Why? Because they feel they can trust their leader.
Strong will and humility – they present an interesting dichotomy. At first glance they appear to be opposites. How can a strong and dynamic leader be humble? The reality is that they are complimentary. Strong leaders, even those with strong personalities, can be humble at the same time; realizing their role is to provide direction, that they are not infallible, that they can learn from others, and that others do much of the work. Leaders who understand this and learn how to maintain a sense of urgency and accountability while sharing the good things that happen when success comes do much to develop a culture of trust and expectation, and to nurture emerging leaders within their organization.
These are interesting days, aren’t they? Leaders today have a special responsibility to help envision and motivate, to maintain their focus on excellence, and to be positive and supportive while taking very determined and sometimes tough actions.
Some will tell you that a leader’s highest responsibility is to remove obstacles and work to assure the success of others. This concept of “servant leader” is by no means new, and anyone who has ever experienced it knows that it requires great self-assurance. It is that self-assurance that allows the two seemingly opposite traits of strength and humility to meld, combining to exhibit leadership that people trust and want to follow.