What happens if you make light of your achievements, shun the spotlight, and pass the microphone on to the next person in line? Will this stunt your career growth?
I’ve worried about this for years. I used to deal with a guy who did very well as a professional expert, while knowing not much more than what he’d read the in a trade journal or two the night before a presentation. That never bothered him. And he did very well. And it kind of bothered me.
And then we have the new world order of personal branding, led by experts like Dan Schawbel, Jonathan Fields, Pam Slim, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, John Jantsch, and many others. Dan is the leading expert as defined by Google. Those others are great personal brands, acknowledged experts. What does personal branding say about humility? Can you get there with humility? (hint: some do, some don’t.)
I’d like to think that the world rewards people who let others tell their achievements. But does it? Can someone who doesn’t love the spotlight be a leader? A leader is defined by followers. What if you never take credit and stick in the background? Will your would-be followers ever find you? Will they give you credit?
I was happy to see this note included in Startup lessons learned from Warren Buffett published on VentureBeat over the weekend:
Like self-deprecation, humor has a disarming effect.
In context that’s more about humor than self deprecation, but the quote itself, coming from Warren Buffett, has some power. Right?
I also like Humility as a Leadership Trait by John Baldoni at HarvardBusiness.org. He writes:
A sense of humility is essential to leadership because it authenticates a person’s humanity. We humans are frail creatures; we have our faults. Recognizing what we do well, as well as what we do not do so well, is vital to self-awareness and paramount to humility.
He goes on, in that post, to list ways to demonstrate humility in the workplace. Temper authority, look to promote others, acknowledge what others do.
And yet, much as I like this idea, I think it has to be tempered with reality. People are busy. People need to be told what they think. If you don’t take credit, somebody else will. Baldoni says:
Can you be too humble in the workplace? Yes. If you fail to put yourself, or more importantly your ideas, forward, you will be overlooked. Chances for promotion will evaporate, but worse you will not give anyone a reason to believe in you. All of us need not lead others, but those who do seek to influence, to change, to guide, and to lead their organizations, need to find ways to get noticed. Again humility comes to the rescue. That is, if you celebrate team first, self second, people will notice what you and your team have achieved.
Damn: paradox. Lack of a general rule. All of it case by case. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a conclusion there about doing the right things in moderation. What do you think?
(Image: Marie C. Fields/Shutterstock)