Richard Pierce Thomas

Leadership and Small Business Consultant

There are many lessons in business and leadership that need to be learned along the way in owning and running a business.                

Further, before one earns the title of a so-called seasoned veteran, there are the inevitable hard lessons that come with learning the ropes. Hard lessons such as cash shortfalls, product quality issues or perhaps a shotgun hire that ends up creating more chaos than having gone without the personnel in the first place.

Of all of these, however, there is one hard lesson that is more “fatal flaw” than anything else, and that when repeated, does significant harm to the business. It is the inability for the leader to genuinely say, “I am sorry,” or, “I got it wrong,” and, “what can we do to make it right?” The inability to express these statements at the appropriate moments creates a vacuum of trust among the team and a lack of willingness for them to go the extra mile for the leader or the business. 

Not surprisingly, exhibiting the opposite of this flaw has the ability to create more unity and rally your employees, customers and suppliers around you. And better yet, it’s incredibly simple. It’s called humility, and when genuinely demonstrated, communicates that it’s not about you, but about them. 

But why then, if so simple, is it so hard for many to do? I’ll answer this question from a very pragmatic perspective as it comes directly from my own experience and the multitudes of mistakes I have made in learning these valuable lessons. 

Principal Number 1 – What got you here, isn’t going to get you there

One of the most frustrating lessons I learned as a newly promoted program leader in a manufacturing business after having a very successful run in various engineering roles, was not everyone thought like me. 

Okay, I know it sounds stupid, but it is an inevitable truth that every leader must eventually come to terms with. And when you do, as was the case for me, the answers to problems that used to work don’t work anymore. Worse, the temptation to “tell” people what to do because it’s quicker and easier just creates a bow wave of problems that end up on our plate with a comet trail of people behind us waiting for us to solve their problems. 

Clearly, the talent and guile that earned us this leadership position must take a back seat to doing things differently to succeed in the role.

Principal Number 2 – It’s not about doing things right, but doing the right thing

There is a pregnant implication to this point – that learning what the right thing is, more than likely, means you will have to do the wrong thing, and likely many times over. In this regard, “double your mistake rate,” as my buddy Nathaniel has counseled often. 

The sooner you can figure out what is the right thing versus the wrong, the better, and only through repeated mistakes and learning from them will you get there. In doing so however, you will have to suffer the indignity of being wrong and being willing to admit it, which gets us back to where we started and the last and most important principal.

Principal Number 3 – Demonstrate gratefulness first, and humility will follow

There are many who would argue that if your parents didn’t instill in you the virtue of humility then it is unlikely you are going to figure it out later in life. I’m not nearly as pessimistic, though it will take significant behavioral shifts that can be difficult to internalize. 

If you recognize this is an issue, or someone has shown you some tough love in pointing it out, than you are headed in the right direction. Foster this with demonstrating gratefulness. Not just in your words, but in your actions. Humility is a mirror, and eventually you will see the reflection of yourself and recognize when and what to make amends for. 

The truth is we all have work to do in improving how we exercise leadership and influence to others. Choosing to master humility first and foremost over other attributes will do more to ensure your success as a leader than anything else you can do.

Rick Thomas is a Principal and Director of Human Capital at Pilot Wealth Management, a registered investment advisor in Oregon state. Leading their focus on the human component of building wealth, he consults and speaks to organizations across the country, focusing on individual and organizational achievement.