The Power of Humility

“Look in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for bad results.

Look out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for success.” –Jim Collins

Great leaders are rarely inspired by their own success. Rather, they view personal success as a necessary step on the ladder that leads to the elevated platform of leadership, where they can observe those they lead and find and nurture talent. In his groundbreaking work on leadership, Jim Collins tells us that truly great leaders, who accomplish sustainable success for their companies or their countries, have two characteristics in common; personal humility and professional will.

They don’t take credit for the success of their endeavors, even when the evidence demonstrates that they were the catalyst for greatness within their corporations. And more often than not, they take responsibility for the failure of their efforts, even when the blame clearly lies elsewhere.

How does an individual achieve this level of success, where they are humble and massively successful?

I have met and worked with leaders at every level in the last 30 years. From Nelson Mandela to Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, from the top executives in business to the leaders in the entertainment world, every successful leader I have met has a common core.

A strong identity. They know who they are, where they are going, and how to get there.

I think this is the key to their success.

Once true leaders are at the helm of the corporation or in a governmental leadership position, they have already established success for themselves. They are not driven by a shallow need to prove anything to anyone.

With a strong identity at their core, they can subvert the urge to let their ego rule the day. Good leaders will wisely use any credit for the good of their team and any criticisms for their own growth and development.

In other words, a true leader will look for opportunities to inspire, motivate and guide others, instead of using their success to inspire, motivate and guide themselves. They can afford to spread credit to their team, because their identity inspires them, their mission motivates them, and their values guide them.

I have learned this through decades of research and development on identity and leadership. Leaders with strong identities stay steady while others falter. They can handle the eventual necessary transfer of power, because who they are is not dependent on external factors or outside opinions. They validate themselves.

Great leaders are humble enough to get out of their own way, and lead others to greatness.

“When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”– Michelle Obama