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Humility and Leadership

There was once a gentleman who was an incredible talent.  He was knowledgeable and brilliantly skilled.  His ability was simply top-notch and no project assigned to him was too difficult.  Clients were consistently happy by his accomplishments.   Nothing kept him from succeeding in his endeavors as he routinely found creative and seemingly perfect solutions to problems.   In short, his performance was practically perfect.

But there was one, glaring problem; None of his peers wanted to work with him.

While he was immensely talented and incredibly skilled, he knew that he was usually the smartest person in the room.  Not only was he aware of it, he thrived knowing it and would often act with an air of superiority.   When other people would attempt to contribute to a project they were often ridiculed, and their ideas summarily dismissed.   His participation on a team was usually unwanted from his peers.  He was a cancer on a team and none of his colleagues wanted to work with him, despite his successes and his achievements.

A Different Approach

Contrast that with Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots.  Brady is generally regarded as the greatest, most successful, and prolific American football player of all time.   He holds practically every meaningful record in the game and, while certainly not all fans of the game are fans of him, few would argue that he’s been wildly successful.

Brady’s skill is legendary.  But football is a team sport; there are ten other players on the field at the same time.  In football, it’s impossible for one player to do everything.   The team simply must work together and towards a common goal.  In fact, since 2001 when Brady began playing, there have been hundreds of other players who were part of the Patriot’s organization.  So what does Brady do to ensure that his individual ability gels within the team environment?  How does such an incredible player work with these teammates over 19 seasons to produce such results?

When a new teammate joins the Patriots, Brady notoriously approaches the new player with the same four-word greeting, “Hi, I’m Tom Brady.”  He takes the first step, offers his welcoming handshake, and doesn’t pretend to be anything superior.  Yes, he’s regarded as one of the most exceptional players ever.  But  from the very beginning of this relationship, Brady makes it clear – he’s a teammate first, and he knows that only together and the team succeed.

When Sundar Pichai interviewed to join Google as an employee in April 2007, he received what was (at that time) a peculiar question.   He was asked for a general opinion on Google’s “Gmail” product.  The problem was that Pichai had never seen, nor heard of, Gmail.  The product had been released just a few days prior and the interviewer figured that Pichai hadn’t seen it.  The question was asked because they wanted to understand the response.

Pichai could have faked a reply.  He was certainly intelligent enough to fabricate some generic answer about the interface, the functionality, or some broad concept.  But that’s not what he did.   Pichai instead admitted that he was unware of Gmail and hadn’t seen the product.  He admitted that he did not have some specific knowledge.

The interviewers were testing to see the response – would the candidate try to prove their intelligence by faking an answer or would they have the humility to admit they didn’t know something.   For this interview, Pichai’s admission that he lacked knowledge showed that he could humbly admit that he still needed to learn something.

Today, Sindar Pichai is the CEO of Google, Inc. and, most likely, still learning as much as he can.

Talented leaders (players, teammates, colleagues, etc.) certainly know when they have skill and ability.   But truly great performers excel even further when they practice humility in their leadership.   Tom Brady gets it.  Sindar Pichai gets it.  Perhaps you know people to clearly don’t get it.

The Two Twelve Experience

Within our Two Twelve Network, I’m thrilled to say that I’ve met hundreds of folks who clearly ‘get it’.   There is a certain strength that comes with knowing your own professional ability.  Gratefully, our network is filled with outstanding professionals who also recognize that they are teammates first.  Two Twelve is filled with humble experts who understand that learning is constant, growth is needed, and working with other people is the surest way to achieve our goals.

We are a network of people with a foundation of trust in each other.  As I’ve shared in Biz Chats and visited with teams throughout our network, I’ve met people who strive to learn and understand rather than pretend they are more talented or superior.   Humble teamwork lives on, and it’s central here in our network.