There Is No “I” In “Leader”

I came across a quote the other day from Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it went like this, “A great man is always willing to be little.” After some reflection, I realized there is so much power in that quote. When we can read that quote without getting defensive and think we have to refute such statements, it is then that we truly understand the meaning behind Emerson’s words. Being little does not mean weakness. In fact, it means quite the opposite. A great man who is always willing to be little knows the importance of humility, teamwork, and confidence. 

There is no “I” in “leader”. When leaders start to focus on their strengths, their power, their rights as a leader, then they lose the essence of true leadership. Humility is one of the most important aspects of leadership. Many hear the word “humility” and think of weakness, but it is very much the opposite of weakness. Being humble takes away the need for “I”. Humility allows the opportunity for growth, not only in ourselves, but also in our organizations, businesses, etc. Humility says, “I don’t need to be the most important person in the room.” It is willing to admit that you may not be the smartest person in the room, and that’s okay. 

A humble leader is a vulnerable leader. This is another word that people tend to think means weakness. Quite the contrary. Being vulnerable means you are willing to try new things, learn from mistakes, admit faults and failures, and, again, know you may not be the smartest person in the room. Simon Senik said it best when he said, “A leader, first and foremost, is human. Only when we have the strength to show our vulnerability can we truly lead.” Leaders aren’t meant to be superhuman, but rather the chain that brings everyone together to share in the expertise of others. A vulnerable leader is a confident leader.

One thing I truly believe in is the importance of leaders listening to experts within their team. Please understand, when I say team, I don’t mean only management. I believe a team is anyone and everyone working for or within an organization. The water boy on a football team is part of the team. Even though he may never get playing time, he is still a crucial part of the team. Every person, every employee, every member has an expertise and providing them the opportunity to share ideas and opinions allows for a better, more well rounded organization. “Soliciting the input of your team members allows you to make better decisions” (Cody Thompson). Never forget, an effective, confident leader is okay not being the smartest person in the room.

To finish this post, I want to leave you with a great quote from Pat Lencioni in his book The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues, “Great team players lack excessive ego or concerns about status. They are quick to point out the contributions of others and slow to seek attention for their own. They share credit, emphasize team over self, and define success collectively rather than individually. It is no great surprise, then, that humility is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of being a team player.”

In everything you do, stay humble!

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