Humility at the Top Adds Profits to the Bottom…Line

For leaders to achieve success it certainly requires some strategic planning in their actions. However, beyond that they must strike a balance between corporate priorities, personal self-interests and responsibility to and for others. That demands a certain amount of selflessness and even humility.

These traits were apparently quite foreign to John DeLorean. According to Fortune, his ego destroyed his automobile company. He complicated matters further by trying to secure funding for the failing company by illegally shipping 220 pounds of Cocaine. When DeLorean was arrested, evidently he was unrepentant. Conversely, when Apple fired the late Steven Jobs for his unrestrained ego; he eventually repented, worked hard and resolved the ego issues that originally caused his downfall. DeLorean’s auto company is now defunct, but Apple recently became the first US Company to reach $1 trillion market valuation.

Advancing the Larger Purpose

Researcher and author Jim Collins discovered this secret in his now classic study of “Good to Great” companies. He found that the most effective leaders (level five leaders) are a “paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” However, “Personal Humility,” doesn’t mean weakness. Instead he’s talking about leaders being secure enough to check their egos at the door and do what’s best for the organization. In other words what happens in high performing organizations is not necessarily about accommodating leaders and raising their individual profiles. It’s about advancing the organization and its well being first. According to Collins, the lack of humility among high profile leaders is why they’re not nearly as effective as the level 5, “humble” leaders.

What Collins found is simply that in order to achieve long-term sustainable results, leaders must be more focused on the larger mission of the enterprise and less focused on themselves. Recognizing and acting on one’s responsibility to others and to a larger mission is an essential part of covenant leadership; it is also how leaders build credibility and motivate people to follow them. It sometimes requires sacrificing self-interest in favor of the common purpose and/or delaying immediate gratification in favor of longer-term success.

A Lesson from our Founders

For example, the vast majority of Americans agree that our founding fathers were leaders who sacrificed self-interest in favor of common good. Consider John Witherspoon, Abraham Clark and Richard Stockton, New Jersey delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Witherspoon had been president of a college that eventually became Princeton. He fled with his family as the British occupied college buildings and burned many of his most prized books. Abraham Clark left his wife’s sick bed because of the British, returning to a ruined farm, a dead wife and missing children. Richard Stockton had been a well-esteemed, distinguished and wealthy man. He went into hiding but an informant revealed his location. The British dragged him out in the middle of the night, stripped him and took his property. They destroyed his home and threw him into prison where he was malnourished and regularly exposed to cold weather and disease. Towards the end of his life he was deathly sick, financially depleted, dependent on friends and suffering from depression.

It would have been easy for the founders simply to ignore the quest for liberty. Many were wealthy and lived quite comfortably. Still, wealth was not their primary motivator; it was the common and ethical purpose of liberty they served. It bound them together and led them to sacrifice self-interest in favor of this larger purpose. When leaders recognize their responsibility to others and sacrifice this way, it inspires followers to serve that same purpose in ways that endure and contribute to the bottom line. The same is true in nonprofit fundraising.  Selfless leaders inspire generosity and support of the mission.