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Relationship Building: Dare to be Humble

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea to help you check your ego at the door and build stronger relationships.

        General Colin Powell, then the nation’s former top military officer, always kept a special phone line in his office that only he would personally answer. He gave the phone number to people he trusted would call him to keep his ego in check, to make sure he was staying connected to the real world in his decision making.

Colin Powell as Secretary of State

        I  think of that personal Hotline as his “Snotline.”

      All leaders have their version of a Hotline to act quickly to divert a crisis, but how many leaders like General Powell have a “Snotline” –a dedicated phone line– to help them avert a personal crisis? How many leaders trust their friends enough to ask them to call him and alert him to what he can’t see in himself: like the proverbial snot hanging from his nose. Installing that “Snotline” takes humility, discipline and fortitude. Installing that “Snotline” takes leadership. Maybe that’s why the Romans gave their rulers a golden shield inscribed with the words: piety, clemency, justice and valor. Leaders dare to be humble.

     With humility comes wisdom as T.S. Eliot noted: “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.” With humility comes revelation as Henry David Thoreau noted: “Humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights.”With humility comes character as Norman Vincent Peale noted: “People with humility don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less.”

    Maybe that’s why Albert Schweitzer always traveled third class. He never wrote a letter on a clean sheet of paper– the back of any scrap paper was fine. Maybe that’s why Albert Einstein once received a package from the post office labeled only Professor Einstein, Europe. He marveled at the excellent postal service without noting his own fame. And maybe that’s why Mohandas Gandhi did not like to be called Mahatma meaning “Great Soul” because it implied there were little souls. Leaders dare to be humble.

       How can you become more humble in real-life situations? Let’s scan the history books for real-world examples of leaders who dared to be humble while walking across a street, or entering a concert hall or sitting in your own cabin on a train.

  1. Booker T. Washington, the educator, was walking along 42nd Street in New York carrying a heavy suitcase. A stranger offered to help him carry the suitcase. They walked together and chatted. “And that was the first time I ever saw Theodore Roosevelt,” Washington recalled years later.  Leaders dare to be humble.
  2. He stood in the lobby as a capacity crowd streamed into the concert hall to hear the famous pianist. An attendant thought the man had not seen the “sold-out” sign and said: “I am sorry we have no available seats.” The man nodded politely and said quietly: “May I be seated at the piano?” The man was famed pianist Arthur Rubenstein. Leaders dare to be humble.
  3. The man lit a cigar. The lady sitting behind him on the train chided the man: “You are probably a foreigner and do not know that there is a smoking-car attached to the train. Smoking is not permitted here.” The man quietly threw away his cigar. Later the conductor told the woman that she had mistakenly entered the private car of General Ulysses S. Grant. Leaders dare to be humble.

General Robert E. Lee

        The most effective leaders leverage their sense of humility as a teaching tool. Consider the story of the man who sat sat in the last seat on the train. An elderly lady came aboard, carrying large basket. There were no vacant seats. She finally reached the back of the train. The man in the last seat on the train rose promptly and gave the lady his seat. Immediately 20 men were on their feet offering the man his seat. “No gentlemen, if there was no seat for this old lady there is no seat for me.” The man was General Robert E. Lee. Leaders. Leaders dare to be humble

Today’s ImproveMINT
Check your ego at the door to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.

You might also like these previous Leadership Mints on Relationship Building:
Parlaying your Golden Eggs

Leaders are Lovers

Leaders Mantra: Relationship Building ‘R Us

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