Growing up, I had a hard time with the word “humility”. Much of my adolescence was what I would call a charmed life and good things had a way of coming my way (even in the face of defeat). This led to me learning humility the hard way as an adult — by falling on my face time after time. When I stand before teams today, I try to tell them that I am a man who knows how to be humble.
In reality, I am an expert in “being humbled.” Meaning, I am good at admitting when I made a mistake and fixing things. Reacting well.
Was that what I was supposed to be doing? If not, what should the ideal be?
Living with humility, on the other hand, is proactive. It allows you to see problems coming on the horizon, while being humbled forces you to react once the damage has been done. Saying “I’m sorry” has a way of putting things in perspective. Even though I have known plenty of success, I can’t help but think of all the times I’ve had to learn from my failures the hard way.
There’s nothing wrong with learning from mistakes, mind you. If we make a habit out of that practice, though, the more it can erode our ability to get the job done. Being humbled well is very different than living with humility.
Agile leaders can’t afford to lean solely on the ability to learn from mistakes. At some point, we have to be proactive and head issues off at the pass. Here are a few things that humble leaders do once they take the training wheels off, and how I’m specifically trying to live them out.
Stay in your lane. If you haven’t thought you could solve any problem before, don’t worry it will happen soon. Frankly, it’s the result of tasting success on your team. You string a few good sprints together and suddenly you are feeling your oats. You think that you are bulletproof and that’s when you start trying to solve the world’s problems.
That confidence isn’t the problem, but micromanagement is. Humble leaders know their strengths as well as their limitations. That forces you to surround yourself with people who can fill in your gaps and let the reins go. This Fast Company article states that embracing ambiguity and letting go will help you learn when to actually take charge.
For me, it comes from thinking I’m the one-stop-shop force of Agile transformation. My sponge of a brain should have any answer at the ready for when one of our teams has an issue. “If they would just do it my way, they wouldn’t have any problems,” I tell myself. Like I don’t have any problems in my own projects.
We have some of the best leaders I know, and we all do it differently. I just need to trust and sit back as we all help each other reach new heights.
Embrace being and individual and a teammate at the same time. How interesting that we would flourish when we spread our wings and belong to something larger, but that’s exactly what this Harvard Business Review study states. Finding the right balance between the two can unlock something deeper in our potential:
Employees feel unique when they are recognized for the distinct talents and skills they bring to their teams; they feel they belong when they share important commonalities with co-workers.
Tricky part to that balance is trying to do too much of either side. When we focus too much on our individuality, we tend to reach beyond our means and get out of our previously described lane. When we focus too much on inclusion, we can shrink from the moment when we are needed most. This translates to leaders failing when they love the spotlight or hate it too much.
I love it way too much, and that probably comes across too often in this blog. Humility for me means letting teammates receive praise that I feel I deserve. Because I’m just fine with taking responsibility for failure, I think I should also be getting as much of the glory even though I’m not the one getting across the finish line. It’s my team that accomplishes that work, of course. So even though I did my part, I must remember it was just that: a part.
Seek out improvement instead of letting it come to you. When I really want to know how well I’m doing at my job, I think back to the interview process of becoming a Rocketeer. There was the panel interview of three senior PMs, all them hardened by battle wounds and knowledgable in what it would take to succeed at their job. Another round was with single senior PM (as well as another discipline lead). Three of those four colleagues are still with the company, and available whenever I need them.
What I should do is regularly talk to them about how I’m doing and ask for their advice. What sometimes happens, instead, is I get pulled into a hallway and greeted with the words, “can I offer you some advice?” That’s how I get the opportunity to learn from my mistakes. The samurai of my craft see constructive criticism before they turn into problems, and it is in no way personal.
If you are keeping track of your personal mission through regular self-reflection, this activity should be second nature. Challenge comes when you get busy with the rigors of doing your job, because those doldrums are right in front of you. To see through the immediate into the future of your problems, widen the circle of influence and get checkups. As with your health, well visits are much less of a toll than sick ones.
How does this change your humility? Entreprenuer.com says that being proactive in humility affects not just your attitude, but how you are perceived in the work place:
“When leaders live from a strong, humble, center of gravity they are naturally perceived as more honest, trustworthy and capable. Because humility prevents excessive self-focus it also allows leaders to develop deeper perspectives in their relationships, which makes them more perceptive and capable of anticipating the future. They are not fooled by what they see on the surface, and are able to perceive behind the curtain of individuals and whole systems.”
I couldn’t possibly think of a better self-improvement technique than that.