Humility is costly, but there are incredible and often surprising rewards for leaders who recognize their own personal strengths and limitations while seeing and encouraging the greatness in others. Sometimes the ramifications of this timeless insight bring a smile.
Imagine a traditional, buttoned-down, classy department store with the expected crew of nicely dressed, decorous department managers and floor workers. In the midst of this stable setting appears a freewheeling bohemian hippie throwback with an attitude!
While consulting with a large department store chain, we encountered such a situation with a particular store employee. The management team just did not respect this guy because he did not fit the mold of the “perfect” floor salesperson. He dressed way too casually (did he even own a tie?). He wore his hair very long. His humor was caustic. He talked too loudly and joked too much. The only thing standing between him and a pink slip was the small matter of performance. He was positively brilliant at what he did!
His specialty was the children’s clothing department where the kids (and moms) loved him. To them, he was a funny, warm, and highly entertaining friend, a trusted advisor in selecting the best things to wear. Because the customers understood this man’s intentions—he loved meeting kids on their level and serving them—his countercultural appearance and behavior didn’t matter much. As long as his creative approach and personality accomplished the mission, he deserved to be a hero of management, not a personnel headache.
This man definitely was a diamond in the rough.
Sure, this example may be a bit extreme, but it illustrates the principle beautifully: A humble leader, who is not too full of self, has the capacity and good sense to allow others to sparkle and make a difference.
Many times a humble leader discovers strengths in his or her coworkers that even they have failed to detect.They relish the idea of helping people find their unique niche. They enjoy moving people along to bigger and better things. They celebrate the victories and provide encouragement when their people are discouraged or fearful of moving ahead.