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Leadership Series II Unwillingness to Render Humble Service

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

Next in Napoleon Hill’s 10 Major Causes of Failure in Leadership, is the Unwillingness to Render Humble Service:

“Truly great leaders are willing, when occasion demands, to perform any sort of labor that they would ask another to perform. ‘The greatest among ye shall be servant of all’ is a truth that all able leaders observe and respect.”

Now we're talkin’, Napoleon! Remember, this progressive thinking about leadership was written in 1937. This was the era of the Great Depression, a fully male-dominated world that shirked all weakness.

Hill extols leaders to:

· Lead by example;

· Be humble, and

· Practise servant leadership.

Lead by Example

Great leaders, or at least those respected by members of their team, aren't afraid to get their hands dirty. Working side-by-side in the trenches with your people, especially in times of great upheaval or emergency, sets the tone and engrains a culture built on teamwork, caring, equality and the greater good of the company.

Now, this is very different from getting in the way of your team’s ability to do their jobs. Micro-managing is not the same as leading by example. But, who doesn’t love it when the boss jumps in and helps get you out of the shit? This assumes, of course, that the boss knows what they are doing and doesn’t make matters worse.

The world of hospitality has to be one of the best examples of where a manager can jump in to get staff back above water. Every manager and chef has stories of bussing tables, running food, shucking oysters, making drinks, seating guests, washing dishes, flipping burgers and unplugging toilets. It goes with the territory.

Effective hospitality management cannot happen from behind a clipboard or from an office. The action's on the floor. Your team needs you to facilitate and expedite winning customer experiences. Besides, how else will a manager have true understanding of the quality of product and service and staff performance if not there to participate and witness firsthand?

The key is recognizing that when the push is over, good leaders will go back to doing their jobs and let their great people do theirs. Meddling is not leading by example. It's troublesome and puts people off of their games. Know when to get out of the way and offer moral support. Recognition and a beer after the shift will go a long way in showing support and building a loyal team.


This point hits me squarely in the head and in the heart. I’m not saying that I've achieved humility, but if this had been a leadership trait honoured and celebrated during my career, I would have been better for it.

It’s remarkable to me that in 2021, leaders are still valued for thumping their chests, showing their strength, feeling like they have all the answers and demonstrating classic ‘my way or the highway’ thinking. This kind of thinking needs to go. I never got it, and still don’t.

Compounding the matter, up-and-comers and women in leadership have been pressured to follow the macho lead and exercise strength from power – to out-macho the macho – as the way to move ahead in the corporate world. What kind of crock have they been teaching in MBA schools, athletics, military and police and in the hallways of our corporations? Leaders should be modeling more compelling and impactful methods appropriate for today's world, not leadership by fear, intimidation and shame. Rather, we must be looking forward to more contemporary models such as conversational leadership and transformational leadership in order to be effective.

Had my former bosses judged my leadership effectiveness not on my quieter demeanour, but rather on the results I was achieving, I would have felt more understood as a person and not suffered the criticism over not being the stereotype. My mental health would have fared much better as well!

In Jim Collins’ classic book Good to Great, he explains why certain companies, at the time of his study, performed better than others. He and his team undertook all manner of analysis. The greatest takeaway was that the most successful companies had one thing in common – humble leaders. Not exactly affirmation for the Donald Trump school of leadership.

Collins makes his case for Level 5 Leadership concept:

“Level 5 leaders display a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. They're incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organization and its purpose, not themselves. While Level 5 leaders can come in many personality packages, they are often self-effacing, quiet, reserved and even shy.”

Sounds like the type of leader that I want to follow and emulate.

Not only is this the most effective type of leader, as identified in 1937 by Hill, but in 2021, it's necessary in order to succeed. GenNext, Millennials, and GenZ employees have zero tolerance for old-school leadership styles. They want to work for companies aligned with their values and will shop their skills until they find the right fit. Most employees leave their jobs because of bad bosses!

So, after that wee rant, what does a humble leader look like? Holly Daskal, author of The Leadership Gap – What Gets Between You and Greatness, and CEO of Lead from Within, posits this about humble leaders:

  • They lead to serve. Humble leaders shift attention away from themselves and focus on the contributions and needs of those around them.

  • They have reserves of inner strength. Being a humble leader isn’t a sign of meekness or powerlessness but of great inner strength. The best leaders are humble on the outside and confident on the inside.

  • They admit to their mistakes. All leaders are human, which means they all make mistakes from time to time. When you are willing to share your own missteps and mistakes, it allows others to connect to you in a deeper way. Humility is a quality that lets others see your humanity.

  • They seek input from others. The first step of turning to others for input is being vulnerable enough to admit that you need the help and insight of others – which is a sign of great character on its own.

  • They know themselves. Humble leaders know who they are and behave in a way that’s consistent with that knowledge. They also recognize where there’s room for improvement.

  • They are genuine. Humble leaders know the importance of being authentic. They are the same person in private, in public, and in personal life, in every situation and with every kind of people.

  • They invite trust. Humble leaders know that trust – earning it, giving it and building it – is the foundation of great leadership.

  • They treat others with respect. Humble leaders are consistent and disciplined in their treatment of others. They treat everyone with respect regardless of their position, role or title.

  • They understand their limitations. Humble leaders have the confidence to recognize their own weaknesses. Rather than viewing their limits as a threat or a sign of frailty, they surround themselves with others who have complementary skills.

  • They model the way. Humble leaders lead by example. Their leadership isn’t expressed as “because I’m the boss” authority but in every one of their actions and words.

  • Lead from within: There is always room to be a better person and leader. If you can cultivate humility as a skill, you will be strong when you are weak and brave when you are scared.

In fact, we should all welcome daily humiliations as an opportunity to increase self-awareness and growth. I am not even close to being there yet, but I do like the concept.

Servant Leadership

“A great man (person) is always willing to be little.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Both humility and servant leadership deserve to be blog topics on their own, but since Napoleon Hill was able to pack into one small paragraph such powerful concepts, I have to do a little unpacking here.

Leadership is not about "me" as the leader. Humility and servant leadership concept turns dated macho leadership on its head. The notion of ‘leader as servant’ is by no means new. Until recently, and even to a degree today, leadership has been about top-down management from the C-Suite. Nothing could be less effective than this approach in business, or even in the classroom or home.

Servant Leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to prioritize the needs of employees and support people to develop and perform as highly as possible. According to founder Robert K. Greenleaf, who introduced the concept in 1970, a servant leader should be focused on asking, “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

When leaders shift their mindset away from focusing on the bottom line and start prioritizing serving, they and their employees benefit from personal growth. While this may seem backward to many traditional thinkers, what actually transpires is that as people grow, so too do their organizations and their profits due to the employees’ growing commitment and engagement.

How wonderfully refreshing! Well Mr. Hill, seems I'm one board with the first two points of the 10 Major Causes of Failure in Leadership. Cheers to foresight from your 1937.

Until next time!

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