Jeff Bezos, the CEO and founder of Amazon and the richest man on the planet (surpassing Bill Gates in July 2017) is known to still do the dishes at home. Until recently, his wife still drove their kids to school in their Honda Accord.
In fact, when Jeff Bezos first started Amazon, he created his desk from a door purchased from Home Depot. At the time, doors were cheaper than desks so he decided to buy a door and put some legs on it. Right up until 1999 when Amazon stock was valued at $10 billion they were still using doors as desks.
Today, an upgraded version of the door desks is still used by employees in both corporate roles and in fulfillment centres. And frugality remains one of Amazon’s leadership principles.
“Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention,” reads an Amazon leadership principle listed on its website.
Bezos even uses the desk as a symbol to recognise employees who come up with cost-saving ideas at Amazon’s all-hands meetings, by presenting them with a miniature desk that he’s signed, called the “Door Desk Award.” Most recently, the award went to three employees who had an idea to use gift bags instead of gift wrap for presents, saving Amazon millions of dollars, according to the company.
To inspire others, Amazon encourages anyone to build their own door desk in six steps.
When you are modest, you create an environment with your team that doesn’t thrive on ego. You share your knowledge with people in a helpful way that educates and changes their world without boosting ego. People feel at ease in your presence; they know you’re not going to make them feel stupid. In fact, it was Coco Chanel who said, “Modesty is the highest elegance.”
If you aren’t modest, people feel manipulated. How can they trust you if it looks like you’re giving them the run-around or pushing an agenda?
A study done by Don E Davis found that modesty is a subdomain of humility. Modesty is about being down to earth. Be practical and straight with people. Nobody likes a show-off who spouts jargon and makes others feel inadequate. But is modesty alone enough to breed a humble leader?
Power is So Yesterday
With the rise of the #metoo movement, the issue of power and the abuse of power for those in influential roles are being questioned. Thirty years ago, before the internet and social media, brand and reputation management was relatively contained and the issues raised in Hollywood would not be discussed in the public domain. Today, you can be in the middle of nowhere, not personally know anyone in Hollywood and yet you’ll certainly hear about these issues.
For the first time, the Global Leaders report for 2017 by KPMG have identified brand in the top 3 issues for the future for CEO’s. In the past it’s been noted as an issue, however has never ranked inside the top 10. The question being asked is “who really are our leaders?” For those organisations that have great leaders with integrity, they have nothing to worry about. But for those organisations that don’t, what does this mean for their future success?
Simply teaching how to behave professionally isn’t enough. So the question for CEO’s, HR Managers and those engaging in leadership development, from frontline to executive level is “how do we balance the concept of power in their roles, teach leaders to be respectful, curious, and humble at work, yet still hold authority and get stuff done?”
The future of work and leadership requires a different approach. It requires a shift from the pervasive command-and-control style of leadership to one of curiosity, collaboration and creativity. In fact, with the rise of smart machines and up to 40% of jobs in the next 15-20 years at risk of being replaced by AI, humility has been identified as the number 1 skill for the future of work.
How do we achieve this?
We need to remove our ego, or as Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a leading positive psychology scientist calls it, our “cocoon of self-absorption.”
Humility is the New Power
Humble leaders are the leaders of tomorrow.
They do not assume they know everything. They do not assume ultimate control over everyone else. They are empowered and powerful, but this power is achieved differently than it has been in the past.
Humble leaders connect with others at a human level. They’re open-minded, collaborative and listen to others. They create an atmosphere of trust, respect and equality. Everyone and every business can succeed under humble leadership.
Humility connects people. It attracts customers rather than having to hustle for them. It connects teams so they collaborate, use initiative and drive performance.
Humility is often perceived as a personality trait, and so it is often overlooked or brushed over as part of many leadership programs. The challenge for most leaders is getting to a point of feeling confident in their role and rarely going further than that, thinking that confidence and engagement is the winning factor. If you’re at a level of confidence, then great you have built some trust, but there’s more to come… you’re only halfway there.
So here are 6 traits of humble leaders that make them unique in workplaces for driving change, innovation and performance:
How do you demonstrate your values? Are they congruent with your actions? If they are, people will perceive you as being authentic. They’re more likely to trust you and want to work with you. Essentially, authenticity is your personal brand. Do you walk your talk? Do you deliver what you say you do?
If you aren’t authentic, you aren’t convincing. You undermine your leadership and lose the confidence of your people.
Authenticity, along with confidence isn’t enough in isolation either, let’s face it, you can be an authentic as$%ole. These are foundations to build upon, don’t be left assuming power and authority will create influence and growth in people and organisations. As the leadership expert John Maxwell says “leaders become great, not because of their power but because of their ability to empower others.”
Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird chronicles lawyer Atticus Finch’s defence of a wrongfully-convicted black man in Depression-era Alabama. Adored for his courage and integrity, Atticus has since become one of the most iconic literary heroes of the 20th century. In the book, he says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Empathy naturally follows sincerity, and having empathy is not the same as showing empathy. When you focus on others rather than yourself, you begin to truly understand and share their feelings. And when people see you as empathetic, you earn their respect. People want to work with you because they have faith that you act with compassion and conviction. They value your consideration for the challenges they face.
When you have empathy, you’re also more likely to be proactive. You have a valuable insight and appreciation of other people’s worlds, which means instead of dealing with problems after they arise, you prevent them or even anticipate them – saving time, money and headaches.
If you don’t have empathy, you are likely to base your decisions on assumptions. This is an unhelpful way to lead and grow a business. People will feel you don’t care about or understand their issues, creating friction and mistrust. According to the Centre for Creative Leadership, cultivating compassion, empathy and listening skills in leaders can be key to motivating teams.
Further to this, the report above notes the importance of leaders having a strong understanding of the effects of the “power-distance” and cross-cultural differences of perspective around empathy.
Don’t be afraid to show your true self. People relate to vulnerability; it shows that you’re human. If you try to show others you’re perfect all the time, you effectively shame them. They go into comparison and think, “I’m not as good as you.” They feel they’ll never be able to measure up and as a result, you’ll make it difficult to connect with others. There will always be something missing and you might not be able to put your finger on it.
As best-selling author and expert in Human Connection, Brene Brown has said, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity. and change.” It’s important to admit when you’re wrong. Tell stories of your own challenges, weaknesses, and fears. Show people you’re imperfect. This creates permission for them to be imperfect, too. As a result, you build strong connections that are difficult to replicate and hard to break.
As Joan of Arc was leaving Vaucouleurs to begin her mission to save France on the 23rd of February 1429, she was asked by a woman: “How can you make such a journey when on all sides are soldiers?” to which Joan responded: “Je n’ai pas peur, c’est pour cela que je fus nais” or “I am not afraid, I was born for this!”
Sincere people tend to be trailblazers and focus more on what is right in this world with positive intention. They have a mindset of abundance, focus on higher purpose and don’t tend to fear failure.
Sincere leaders also tend to be curious, focus on being truthful and transparent. When you are sincere, people see you as genuine. They’re more likely to want to build a rapport with you. You demonstrate that while you are forging your own path in accordance with your own values, you are still considerate of the needs of others.
If you don’t show sincerity, people see you as manipulative. They may believe you act purely out of your own self-interests. Your team will second-guess everything you do and disconnect through lack of trust.
Dr. Pete Stebbins, Organisational Psychologist and High-Performance Expert and author of the book Level Up! talks about the importance of psychological safety. It’s the belief that a person can share their ideas, concerns and questions without risking negative consequences, such as ridicule or contempt.
A place of psychological safety is one of openness. Your relationships and work culture are steeped in honesty and respect. Your people feel safe being more open and direct with you. Your team knows they’re not going to lose face by speaking up. You’re all coming from a place of care and mutual benefit. When honesty is seen as a tool for improvement, it can have a significant positive impact on your team’s performance.
As Warren Buffet said “Honesty is a very expensive gift. Don’t expect it to come from cheap people.” If you don’t foster honesty amongst your team, and if you aren’t honest yourself, you demonstrate that you don’t care. People may even think you’re out to manipulate them. This can generate anxiety and fear.
Equality means a culture of fairness. It’s how humble leaders create a truly powerful connection between themselves and their team.
Equality comes from elevating others and removing barriers. It can be achieved through simple things, such as being courteous and shining the light on others. It’s also achieved by ensuring everyone feels they are on the same level and that no one is better than anyone else. In fact, as the American Lawyer and politician and orator Robert Ingersoll said, “We rise by lifting others.”
Humble leaders do not see themselves on a pedestal; they aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. They don’t consider themselves above getting on the “shop floor” and helping out when required. When there is a culture of equality, people feel valued. There’s no rivalry or competing agendas. There is a sense of fairness and your judgment is trusted.
But if you don’t create a culture of equality, morale nosedives. Favouritism rears its ugly head, which impacts your effectiveness as a leader. Cliques form, people start to question their value, performance suffers, and you will lose respect.
So, if you have been through your foundational leadership development and are feeling confident in your role, it might be time to consider levelling up into your humility. The most important thing is to start your humble leadership journey now so you are well placed for future success; for you, your teams, your organisation and society as a whole.
Love to know your thoughts….
Jane Anderson is a communications expert, speaker and the author of 4 books including “EXPERT to INFLUENCER: 12 Key Skills to Attract New Clients, Increase Sales and Leverage your Personal Brand to Become an Industry Leader.” With over 20 years experience helping people step into their personal power, she is obsessed about creating human connection to drive business growth in a world of disruption and automation. To inquire about her working with you or your organisation please contact us here.