Be Humble

BLUF: Own your mistakes and know your limitations.

Humility is a characteristic that has been shown to present a strong leader.  Humility gives you the chance to learn and not enforce your will but be willing to risk the vision of others to let them shine.

I have a Type A personality and I am stubborn and competitive, but I know I am nowhere near the smartest or best in my job market.  I have been humbled way too many times to count.  About once a year I submit a resume to interview at a place that requires subject matter experts; Palantir, 18F, and Instacart.  I failed to get an acceptance in all of these places.

I can admit that I am not a great software engineer, but I know just enough to make me dangerous.  As a leader I have to be able to accept my shortcomings and rely on other team members that are more skilled in certain areas to accomplish tasks.  This means that sometimes I have to purposefully put risk into the project.  But remember in previous posts where we talk about letting team members be creative and allow them freedom to think without chastising their work or decisions.  This risk that, by nature, gets injected allows for that creativity to flourish in other team members.

If you are going to put tasks that you cannot accomplish on other team members you also have to be willing to accept failure and be quick to forgive others for their mistakes.  Doing this keeps your team culture strong and lets the team know that you can make mistakes, but you have to bounce back.  Give them as many chances as they need.  As a leader you know the difference between giving someone an achievable task and giving someone a risky task, so you cannot be quick to judge when you give someone a task that you know could possibly fail if you don’t mitigate the risk.

One of the best things that the military does well is an after action review (AAR).  These AARs are personal critiques on overall performance at the individual or team level.  A team can be a 4-5 man team or a Brigade of troops.  You have to have thick skin during these AARs.  You are being personally attacked for decisions you recently made, but it is up to you whether you want to accept these critiques as an attack or a learning point to better yourself.  As a humble leader you must always be willing to learn through feedback and know your limitations.  Feedback from peers and others allows you the best learning experience.  It is an opportunity to not make the same mistake again.  Jorge Santayana famously said “Those you cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  You might have heard the more common phrase “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

Be a humble leader.  Know you strengths as well as your weaknesses and being willing to accept them.  Be willing to take risk, but be quick to forgive those that fail with the risk.  Finally, be willing to learn from your failures and accept help when presented.