I’ve been on a journey the past several years to better understand humility. It’s personal.
Seems we’ve always been drawn to people who are vocal and physical about their pride. We praise the government leader who takes a stand for something we believe in. We cheer the athlete who celebrates after leading her team to victory. We look up to the charismatic speaker who whips the audience into a frenzy. If pride was a beer it would be a heavily hopped IPA from the pacific northwest. Humility? Maybe a lager.
People who are boastfully proud exhibit confidence and strength. They command attention. They have a presence. This influences us. None of these traits are by definition negative or evil. Most of us want to be led, and to follow we must be inspired. But like all of us, the prideful person is inherently flawed, albeit in his/her own unique way.
The Wall St. Journal recently ran a story saying that the best bosses are humble bosses. They have data to prove it. Studies show that humble bosses inspire better teamwork and faster learning. Their humility encourages others to share opinions and be more transparent thereby improving communication. By contrast, the prideful boss shuts down communication and puts a drag on higher performance.
Here’s the illusion of being humble. Humility connotes softness, gentleness, being meek, being weak, maybe indecisive. If you’re humble you can’t be competitive. You can’t possibly be firm with someone and you’re certainly likely to put up with sub-par or even toxic behavior on your teams. Right?
I’ve witnessed the opposite. I’ve seen humble leaders put others in their place. I’ve seen humble leaders put reps on performance improvement plans (PIPS). I’ve seen humble leaders fire people that have become a necessary ending. Strong leadership and coaching doesn’t have to have an ego-based center.
What’s it take to be a more humble leader of your salespeople? For one, listen more and listen hard. That means you have to ask questions. It means you need to be open to what you hear.
Two, seek feedback. Ask your direct reports what part of your coaching is connecting with them and what’s not. Ask your peers to give you honest assessments of what they see in you and your behavior.
Three, admit your mistakes.
Four, practice saying I’m sorry.
It’s possible that humility could be one of those business concept hot stars that shines so bright but then burns out so fast. I could imagine every MBA program in the country soon offering courses in humility. I hope it does get legs and runs like Forrest Gump forever.
Though it might fade in popularity I’m convinced that humility in business and sales leadership has a long life ahead. People are drawn to humble leaders. The connection is refreshingly real, honest. However, I won’t be surprised if it eventually gets moved from page 1 to the lifestyle section. But humility will be ok with that. It’s never sought the spotlight. It’ll be just fine.
Bartender, pour me a pint of that lager, please.
Author The Funnel Principle, named by Selling Power as a Top Ten Best Book to Read
Author of upcoming book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching
Managing Partner and Founder, Breakthrough Sales Performance, a sales training, coaching and consulting company
6 thoughts on “The Illusion of Humble Sales Leadership”
Excellent piece Mark. Read every word.
Thank you Mark! I hope you and your lovely family are doing well. I just had a conversation with someone this week who told me I am not boastful enough about my accomplishments. They have a specific measure of what passion looks and sounds like. Although I may not have been on my “A” game either that day : )
Excellent piece Mark. Read every word. I’m trying to think if I ever had a humble leader and one does come to mind?
Well done, Mark! The concept of the Serving Leader is a good one. It does indeed work. Looking forward to the new book.
great read and well articulated, thanks Mark for sharing
Jim, a belated thanks for your comment. I’ll have to do better at being timely.