I just started reading the book Good to Great, and was struck by an interesting finding.
The purpose of the book, of course, was to analyze companies that went from average or good, to great. The author and team researched thousands of companies, narrowed the case studies to eleven, and began to dig deep into each one, extrapolating from the research what made these companies go from good to great.
So what stood out about the leaders of these companies? Humility.
Here’s what Jim Collins says, “In contrast to the very I-centric style of the comparison leaders, we were struck by how the good-to-great leaders didn’t talk about themselves. During interviews with the good-to-great leaders, they’d talk about the company and the contributions of other executives as long as we’d like but would deflect discussion about their own contributions” (p. 27).
On the flip side, there were a different breed of executives who also showed exceptional aptitude, but that suffered with pride and huge egos. During their tenure as executives these companies generally did really well. The fall of the companies came after that particular executive left. It seems that because these executives were so self-absorbed, they didn’t care too much to prepare the next generation of leaders that would follow. (Somebody should have given them some John Maxwell books).
Again, here’s Collins: “In over two thirds of the comparison cases, we noted the presence of a gargantuan personal ego that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company” (p. 29).
The reasons for the success of these leaders and companies can’t just be attributed to humility, of course, but this was a clear commonality that all of these leaders exhibited.
Reminds me of the Scripture in Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
So what’s the lesson in all of this? It would be too simplistic, I think, to say, “ok, be humble, then, and your organization will do better.” Humility is not exactly a skill set, per se, like practicing your jump shot in basketball. For the Christian, humility is an expression of an inward change. It’s the fruit of a change at the root (Galatians 5:22-23).
So what can you do? I would work on following Jesus, and going where He tells you to go and doing what He tells you to do. The bumpy roads through which He sometimes leads us seems to be a good recipe for keeping that ego in check.
What would you suggest?