The Humble CEO

In the normal course of conversation, the words humble CEO, humble boss, or humble leader rarely are lumped together.  We’re a bit more used to terms like the charismatic leader, or the focused CEO or the demanding boss.  Well this is a short story about the Humble CEO … and the benefits it brought his company.

During an emergency meeting of Humble, Inc’s leadership team (I’ve changed the name to keep you from sending your resume to Humble’s HR director after you read this story),  to deal with a sudden downturn in demand of Humble’s signature product, the atmosphere was just not the same.  There was the normal back and forth, the typical volleying of ideas and the usual posturing and positioning.  But what seemed unusual about this meeting was the CEO.

You see the CEO is definitely a Type A leader.  He is used to getting results and being on the winning team.  He’s been called charismatic, focused and demanding but no one ever called him humble!  But during this highly charged meeting, he decided to take a back seat.  He didn’t so much lead the meeting as he did facilitate the exchange.  There were lots of ideas being bandied about but none were his.  He asked clarifying questions but never passed judgment on a single idea.  The team noticed the difference but were so excited to be part of the solutions (and not just part of the implementation team), that they were more than willing to seize the opportunity to find a solution to the company’s most pressing problem.

The CEO decided to wrap things up around 8:25pm by giving the only directive he’d given in four hours.  He said, “I’ve got a great deal of confidence in this team.  We’ve spent the last four hours discussing every potential solution.  I know we’ll find a way out of this mess.  Please present the implementation plan to me tomorrow afternoon at our staff meeting.  I appreciate your intellect and effort.  I’ll see you tomorrow.

With that directive, the CEO left for the night and the room fell silent.  The remaining members of the leadership team had just been given the opportunity of a lifetime and they knew it.  Sales, marketing, delivery, product development, finance and human resources all looked at one another for a moment and then began to put together “The Plan.”

“The Plan” was briefed at the 3pm staff meeting.  The CEO’s only comment was “excellent … lets show ‘em what we got.”

In a quite moment a few day’s after the long meeting, the CEO shared his thoughts on his new found approach.  He said he’d been the CEO for many years and people both inside and outside the company would always say it was ‘his” company.  He realized his opinion was always made known and he always had the last say, the final word.  He not only influenced most decisions, he made most of the decisions.

He had been thinking about how to better engage his team and how to pull back from the debilitating situation of being involved in every decision.  He said he heard a quote on a radio show discussing the works of C.S Lewis and a quote attributed to Lewis:  “humility doesn’t mean you think less of yourself, it means you think of yourself less.”  The CEO went on to say that if the company was going to be successful, he needed to get his own ego out the way and let the people he’d been training for years do their job.  He said he was “scared to death”, but after he had allowed himself a few humble moments in front of his team, he found that his ego was still intact and his leadership team was much stronger.  He no longer had to have the last word or the final say.  He was growing comfortable with being a humble leader.

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