Courage, Not Fear; Humility, Not Hubris
By Dick Cross
Observe a business owner’s behavior long enough, and you can paint a pretty accurate picture of what’s driving him or her.
Business schools would like for us to find that the answer is profit. But profit is seldom what’s really driving an owner. Sure, it’s what we always talk about. But profit’s a second-level motivator for most of us. It’s a surrogate for something deeper … and often uncomfortable to talk about … that actually drives how we think and behave in our businesses. And it’s that deeper motivator that determines our effectiveness. And our ability to deliver profit.
The punch line? What motivates many people running businesses is poison to achievement of their intended success. The poisons I see most are fear, and its near-opposite, hubris – extreme pride or arrogance. Start looking, and you’ll see them too. Frequently demonstrated. At the top. Particularly in underperforming businesses.
Fear is our preservation instinct. It’s impossible to shed completely. Nor do we want to. But many of us need to bring it into better balance as a good thing.
Fear is most destructive where it’s least visible. Not when failing to stand up to an obvious challenge. But rather when we hesitate to act on things that we believe, but aren’t absolutely certain, could be right for our businesses. Or when we choose not to shoulder resistance to altering how things have been done in the past. Or when we shy away from reasonable risk to avoid embarrassment or consequence if we’re wrong.
Adjust your thinking to see being wrong, within reasonable boundaries of risk, as the sign of your courage. Your courage not to be afraid. And you’ll start thinking differently. Courage and the ability to see things others don’t are why you get paid more than anyone else in your company. It’s hard. It’s risky. It’s important. It’s what makes the difference between great companies and all the rest. And it’s no one else’s job but yours.
Follow through on that job and people will start seeing you in a brighter light. As an adventurer. Someone never satisfied with the status quo. Always pushing for new things. Some of which won’t work. But picking yourself up with a smile every time, and heading off again. Somebody exciting to be around. Because you’re not timid. And because you don’t over-respond to fear.
Hubris, on the other hand, is also a natural instinct. Though only among social animals. Unlike fear, high hubris and domination of others often feels good to the perpetrator. But like fear, hubris in the extreme is a debilitating trait. Poison for organizational followership. And most unfortunate of all, the worst perpetrators seldom recognize it in themselves.
Fortunately, like fear, there also are pretty simple ways to bring hubris into check as a positive force. A force that turns people toward us rather than away. If we want to.
With hubris, you’ll need a trusted partner. Someone with the security and the guts to give you the truth. The raw, tough-minded, “make-you-angry” kind of truth. Find someone like that and ask them to help you to see how you are seen by others.
Go slow. Tackle only one attribute at a time that you’d like to change about how you’re seen by others. Work on it, with feedback from your partner, until it starts to feel natural. Then ask for another.
Fear and hubris are insidious problems. They’re seldom evident to the perpetrators. Partially because no one’s going to tell the boss that she’s insufferably arrogant. Or that he’s a coward. But it’s also because we have so few credible models for how to handle ourselves effectively in jobs at the top.
Overcoming fear or hubris … and nearly all of us have some to overcome … really isn’t too hard. And getting it done has big impacts for your business.
If you’ve got the courage and humility, do something about it.
Dick Cross is the author of “Just Run It,” an Amazon best-seller. He is founder and managing principal of The Cross Partnership Ltd., and is a consultant and speaker. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Dick Cross on Twitter – @DickCross.
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