[January 8, 2018] People prefer senior leaders who are not modest. If we were to survey folks on the least preferred traits of leadership, modesty would come out the winner. The reasons for this are many but our actions speak loudly when it comes to choosing leaders with outgoing personalities.
Should leaders be modest? The answer is, of course, not so easy because there are many forms of leadership and each can be as simple or complex as the situation demands. Jim Collins in his bestselling management book Good to Great argues that personal humility is a trait that distinguishes good to great leaders.
On the practical side, however, senior leaders in large organizations are not very modest. Well-known American CEOs are not only not modest but border on narcissism personalities. Consider Bill Gates of Microsoft, Steve Jobs of Apple, and Jack Welch of General Electric.
Narcissism, self-promotion, self aggrandizement, and high self-confidence all are traits that help people obtain leadership positions and keep them. Those skills are valued despite controversy over the effectiveness. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and U.S. President Donald Trump immediately come to mind when we think of successful, yet immodest, successful senior leaders.
There is a “political” element in all senior executive positions whether we like to admit it or not. By political I mean that the good of the organization outweighs the individual and sometimes people are treated unfairly. This is no shock to most of us along with the attitude that the world owes us nothing. Those leaders with modest personalities simply do not do as well in the long run.
If we were to draw a line on our whiteboard and at one end place the trait “modesty” and the opposite end with “arrogance” and write the name any leader on that line, the most successful leaders would group toward the end with arrogance. This is simply a fact of leaders using skills that advance them toward a successful career.
My wife argues that I have chosen the term arrogance incorrectly and should have used the word “boldness” or “confidence.” And herein is the issue. Modesty doesn’t get us much, except perhaps when speaking with folks one-on-one. In most work settings, modesty will not get senior leaders much in the way of achieving their goals.
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