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“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

-Proverbs 11:2

A few years ago, a friend of mine was promoted to a higher position at work. We previously held the same managerial positions in different department. Now, he outranked me, but he was in charge of a different department.
Now and again I would stop by and see how he was doing. He would complain about his problems, and I would tell him how glad I was that I didn’t have his job. Once, I joked, “managing sure would be a lot easier if  you didn’t have to deal with people. People just get in the way.” The comment was sarcastic, but to my surprise, he enthusiastically agreed and said, “That’s right.”
I was stunned. He was missing the point. As a manager, one of his primary roles was to equip and develop his people. I knew this guy fairly well and I liked him, but I am not sure that I would want to work for him.
He developed a reputation for not listening to his people. When employees would come to him and tell him that they found this problem or that problem, he dismissed it, telling them that he was aware of it and that they should not to worry about it.
But the truth was different. He was almost never aware of the problem. He just did not want to be seen as not having all of the answers. He thought it would make him look weak, and if he looked weak, he was not sure that his people would follow his leadership. This approach was misguided. If he had revealed his weakness, his people could have helped him, but he cut himself off from the very information that he needed.
This is a common problem in management. This manager was benign, though a bit frustrating to his employees.
I have also worked for the malignant version. These managers seem to revel in making lesser people feel small. They look for opportunities to undercut their people in order to feel better about themselves. Such behavior stems from insecurity. They point to their position in the organization to justify their decisions. I have heard  an executive say, “because I am the vice president,” in order to end a debate. His argument had not improved. That executive was an arrogant HiPPO. In How Google Works, Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google defined HiPPOs this way:

Hippopotamuses are among the deadliest animals, faster than you think and capable of crushing (or biting in half) any enemy in their path. Hippos are dangerous in companies too, where they take the form of the Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion. When it comes to the quality of decision-making, pay-level is intrinsically irrelevant and experience is valuable only if it is used to frame a winning argument.[1]

As leaders rise in organizations, they tend to become more arrogant, and arrogance leads to a host of organizational problems. In the Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner wrote, “The treachery of hubris is far more insidious than any of the other potential problems a leader might encounter.” Yet, humility is the antidote. They concluded, “humility is the only way to resolve the conflicts and contradictions of leadership.”[2] This makes sense.
Are you humble enough to listen to your subordinates or customers? Are you willing to be corrected by subordinates or do you have to be right in order to protect your ego? When customers give you feedback do you consider their viewpoint or dismiss them? If you are humble enough to listen, you may be surprised by the results.

End Notes

[1] Schmidt, E., & Rosenberg, J. (2016). How Google works. New York: Hachette Book Group. (p. 40)
[2] Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z.  (2012). The leadership challenge (5th ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. (p. 340).