“Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself but thinking about yourself less.”

Patrick Lencioni, The Ideal Team Player

For 18 months, Pete Van Epps and I have been interviewing Cameron-Brooks Alumni for the “The Cameron-Brooks Podcast: Above & Beyond,” and we now have over 37 episodes.  One common question we ask is, “What piece of advice would you give to other transitioning military officers or those early in their business career?”  The overwhelming response is, “Be humble.”

The reason they pick this advice?  Because, while these Alumni left the military with exceptional leadership skills and were ready to make an impact when entering business, they discovered they had a lot to learn!  Nothing could derail the establishment of their career faster than an unhealthy sense of pride and a “know-it-all” attitude.

The following actions were suggested by Cameron-Brooks Alumni as steps to help cultivate humble leadership.

  1. Ask a lot of questions. Your boss, peers, and team members will appreciate your questions and desire to learn.  It is the surest way to show them respect and acknowledge you have a lot to learn.
  2. Be respectful. It is natural to want to stand out and show your knowledge or capabilities, but you have to pick the appropriate time.  Questioning, or sometimes called “sharpshooting,” a presenter in a meeting is not the right time.  Instead, seek to understand.
  3. Admit mistakes. You will make mistakes and not just early in your career, but throughout.  Making a mistake is natural and it’s what you do next that counts.  Admit the mistake, apologize if appropriate, seek to learn a lesson from it, and take action to move forward.
  4. Get your hands dirty. No task should be above you. Mike DeBock, who at the time of the podcast interview was the Vice President of Gas Infrastructure for NextEra Energy and is currently the CEO for the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, FL Inc., said he volunteered to lead a trash pick-up in the parking lot because no one was available during a hurricane relief effort.  His boss noticed and then gave him a big role in establishing a remote operating center during the next hurricane.  Seems it worked out pretty well for Mike.
  5. Be grateful. Say “Thank you,” and when someone takes some additional time to invest in you, write them a “Thank You” note.
  6. Be a continuous learner. If you are in manufacturing, come in at a time off your shift to see how another one runs.  If you are in sales, attend additional cases to learn more about the application of your products.  Ask to sit in on additional meetings, even if they are not required.  Volunteer for a project.  Read one self-development book a month.  Earn a certification.

Actively exercising humble leadership will leave positive first impressions and help steer your career in the right direction. And remember, “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking about yourself less.”