The Triple Threat – Leadership, Humility, and Gratitude

Want to follow a leader?

In the book, The Leadership Challenge(r) by Barry Posner and James Kouzes, they conducted research that has been collecting responses since 1987, with over 1.4 million responses to the question, What will we Follow? Here are the most common answers:

  1.     Honesty
  2.     Vision
  3.     Inspiration
  4.     Competence

We all know what we won’t follow – pretty much the opposite of the above:

  • A leader who barks commands. Are we staying at the company more for fear of losing a job? FEAR can be defined as False Evidence Appearing Real ~  Neal Walsch. Fear is not fun – explore, debate, investigate, and if fear persists – get out! It’s not worth the frustration.
  • Someone who is missing in action. They are never around and are always too busy for you. Are you a leader? Look at your calendar: is it full of people and plans, or tasks and project issues? For leaders, customers are #2 and employees are #1.
  • A leader’s incentive actions include only a carrot and a stick. Nothing successful was ever done chasing a carrot or avoiding a stick. We don’t buy into their vision; we probably are not sure of their vision – if they even have one.
  • The leader is doing just the minimum to support us. We can feel misaligned to team goals when encouragement and praise are lacking. We seem less interested in giving discretionary effort when leaders don’t give extra effort to support the team.
  • A leader causes us to bring home negative energy. If our work causes us to yell at the kids and kick the dog, we probably don’t really want to follow the person we work for. We do take our work home, as well as our home life to work. We’re only one person. living as two personas is unstable.

Changing leadership landscape

The landscape has changed. Leadership shows up everywhere. The leader of today:

  • Does not believe title is important. They may have a title and be a great leader – the two just aren’t inherently linked, as society would have us believe. It’s less about them always being  there, and more that their absence is felt.
  • Has a collaborative spirit and doesn’t share information just for appearances, rather they share personal values, goals, and pains.  That is rich, and we follow humanity over rightness.
  • Values all team members and their unique contributions. If they speak badly about poor performers, what do they say about us when we’re not around? After all, we need leaders to be encouraging, less telling us their judgements and the missteps of others. As leaders reveal confidences to us about poor performers, what do we tell our spouse? If we notice we are doing the same thing, we feel bad. Leaders respect everyone! Not everyone is an “A” player, but minimizing “B” and “C” players in public hurts “A” player’s commitment as well. Everyone is not an “A” player on every task, and we all expect dignity from our leader.

These traits appear when authentic humility and gratitude are at the core of a leader’s character.

On humility and leadership

  • Humility is given a lot of attention. On the internet it is easy to discover plenty of thoughts about how humble leadership can create wild success, versus the consequences of arrogant righteousness.
  • We often don’t want to be humble ourselves, as we may think it appears weak. Humility is not the absence of self worth, rather it is a validation of our self worth. Humble is not weak – Humble is powerful. Gandhi and Mother Teresa were both incredible examples of real leadership, not because they were selfless – they just thought of themselves less.
  • Getting over ourselves and utilizing the power of humility is often the best way to engage others.
  • It is probably the most powerful way to grow ourselves in both personal and team leadership.

John C. Maxwell, in his book Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn, tells the story of how early on his staff gave him a gift of a t-shirt that read “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am!” While everyone laughed it off, John was stung because he suspected that was how everyone truly felt. And he was right! So he decided to work to change his attitude.

Humility gives us a more accurate perspective in our daily interactions. It also leaves us open to what we can learn from others and from what makes others special, unique, and valuable to the team.

Power in a Gratitude Spirit

The key to effective gratitude is to remember that gratitude is loud and persistent.

Gratitude felt but not expressed isn’t useful to anyone. When I ask team leaders about one of their employees,“Do you believe in them?”

    And they respond “Of course I do,” and I say,

    “Have you ever told them?” (and there is a pause)

    “Well, no, I shouldn’t have to. They know how I feel!

Many leaders may be successful despite not receiving high levels of praise, we need to respect that many people will disengage without it.

Why are we proud of someone? Share it with them!

We have nothing to lose but our own self-importance.


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