I Say “We” (But it’s All About “Me”)

Accountability Organizational leadership Teamwork


Key Point: There’s a ton of literature out there about the forward moving attributes of leaders. Companies are searching for people who are  “hungry,” “connectors,” “passionate,” etc. I do like these attributes and living them is a requirement for effective leadership. However, one personal value that I think may not get enough attention is HUMILITY.

Over my years of observing career progression, an over active “ego” has stalled or derailed many careers. Why? People have a hard time rallying around leaders that are mostly about themselves. These so called “leaders” often say things like… “It’s my team,” “I’m only as good as my group,” etc., but their actions tell their team and others something different. What do other people who evaluate leadership think about this? 

Google’s SVP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, says humility is one of the traits he’s looking for in new hires. He notes in this HBR blog: “’Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve… I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.’ And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock—it’s ‘intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.’”

Navy SEALS training reinforces the same. Former Navy SEAL Brent Gleeson states in his recent Forbes blog: “Assume you don’t know enoughBecause you don’t. Any effective team member understands that their training is never complete. It’s true in the SEAL Teams and it’s true in any elite team. Personal and professional development is critical to a team’s continued success. Those who assume they know everything should be eliminated. Those who spend time inside and outside of the workplace developing their knowledge and skills will provide the momentum for their team’s forward progress.”

The following are a few behaviors that make me wonder whether the humility trait is missing:

1. The “leader” that uses the “I” word when it comes to taking credit and the “they” word when things go wrong. The most humble leaders sincerely give credit to others when things go great, protect their teams and take it on the chin when a screw up occurs.

2. The “leader” that talks in the “third” person or likes to name things after themselves… Really? The most humble leaders avoid drawing unnecessary attention to themselves; even if deserving. Speaking in the third person is flat out… Well, I’ll just say, “goofy.”

3. The leader that puts themselves first instead of what’s best for the organization or group. I remember as a young leader, I once went home before I told everyone else to leave in advance of an impending snowstorm. I was so appropriately humiliated when this was pointed out to me later in the week. I expected others to leave too, but I just looked after myself first. I’ve tried to NEVER make that dumb mistake again. I should have made sure everyone else left first and then I could have departed. It’s like the recent “leaders eat last” story and principle. 

Character Moves: 

  1. Take honest inventory. Assess where you are on the sincere humility continuum. If you’re about you more than your team and/or organization, you better change… Fast. Go to a trusted, honest advisor to give you direct feedback. Start doing the right thing. 
  2. Make sure your team gets their due share of recognition. If you think your success is primarily from what you’ve done, then you’re a putz. You can be recognized too, but allow others to get credit first. 
  3. When things go wrong within your team, take accountability and address the matter with a solution. It may not be your fault, but like they say at Zappos, “It’s your problem.” Accept it… 
  4. Admit mistakes, sincerely point out messes you’ve made and what you’ve learned. People will love the authenticity.
  5. Never become a “know it all.” Freely admit you’re a never ending student and always pushing yourself to learn and grow. Always remove yourself out of your comfort zone. 

Humble in the Triangle, 


Published and Edited by Garrett Rubis