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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Humility and Leadership

Way back in 1955, I remember my father bringing home a copy of either LOOK or LIFE magazine. I was just a little fellow who could print his own name and was just getting acquainted with the Dick and Jane series of readers. As I thumbed through the magazine, I started laughing. I said to my dad, “Look at this old man with the funny hair.”  My father told me that it was a picture of Albert Einstein who had just passed away. He added that many people thought that Einstein had been the smartest person in the world.

As time went by, I began to read a lot about Einstein. One thing that I noticed was that, despite his reputation as a brilliant physicist, he was a very humble man. During college I stumbled across one of his most famous quotes--"I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Clearly, he had many special talents but his modesty was something that I noted and appreciated.

Thinking of Einstein’s behavior, I have been recollecting all the leaders that I have met and considered what level of humility that they displayed. It has been a very interesting exercise.

Over the years, I have observed three traits that leaders who display humility tend to have:

1) They NEVER underestimate their competition. In advertising and communications, too many people (sadly) show disdain for their competition. The humble leaders take nothing for granted and are always aware that they can lose an account or be outmatched by an adversary. They tend to be better prepared for major presentations than the arrogant ones who feel that business should magically come their way.
2) When talking to people, especially young staffers, they are secure enough to talk about their own weaknesses and past failures. It disarms people, makes them approachable, and reminds everyone that despite their lofty title, they are human, too.
3) They listen to all ideas. Their humility allows them to admit they do not have all or the best solution to issues. Sometimes, they appear to give too much time to someone who seems to be really “out there.” Invariably, a far less zany version of the eccentric person’s idea may be used and the leader gives them credit for it.

Recently, a few sincere young people told me that they wish they could know all the things that I do. When that happens, I laugh and say that I am 40 years older than they, so I have a lot behind me. Also, and I think importantly, I remind them that we are both passionately curious (to steal a phrase!). The only difference between me and them is that I know what I do not know. And, that is a lot!

Take a look at people who lead. Are they truly humble? If they are, you may be looking at a real winner.

Happy New Year!

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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