“A person may be as nobly endowed as Duke Chou, but that isn’t enough to inspire admiration if they aren’t humble and generous.” The Analects of Confucius (8.11)

According to Confucius, a good leader is both humble and generous. What does that mean in today’s world?

In doing research for “Good to Great,” Jim Collins stumbled on a key aspect of leadership that wasn’t in any management literature to date. He noticed that a key characteristic of the best leaders he met, the ones who most advanced the organizations they lead – was that they were humble! He called them “Level 5 Leaders.” They did not claim the success of the organization as theirs, but truly believed and recognized that it was the people who worked in the organization who made success happen. At the same time, when failure occurred, they took the blame! Wow! When was the last time you’ve seen that happen? And how loyal would you feel to a boss like that?

In today’s environment, it is an anomaly to find a humble leader at all. In corporate life, we are coached to tout our successes or be overlooked for good assignments, promotions and raises. Rising stars in corporate and political life need to avoid blame at all costs or risk losing their careers. We have a culture of “winners and losers” and you best not be considered weak or “a loser” because you are not macho enough to claim your space.

And I am not exempt from this either – recently I coached a colleague on a bio she wrote for a presentation she was giving to one of my customers. It was very humble – saying in effect that she had done a little of this, and a little of that” and never focused on her roles as CEO, COO, CHRO, Founder, etc. I was worried that my customer would not give her the accord she deserved, so I asked her to pump up the volume and, as I told her, “write it like a man would.”

Confucius’ words remind me that humility is powerful, and one of the key attributes that bind us to our leaders. For humble leaders see the best in us, truly appreciate what we can do, and work with us to make our organizations great. We WANT them to lead us. And that is a huge difference.

Stay tuned for the next blog on Generosity.

In the meantime, do you know a good leader that is also humble? If so, I would love for you to tell me about that person — let’s give them some airtime!

Catherine M. (Cathy) Perme is a partner at Peterson & Perme Associates, LLC.

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