I’ve spent the last few days trying to make sense of a couple of things that happened within the same 24 hour period.
First was my response to the PR announcement about my role as a track leader at RecruitFest! in Boston in October. It made me really uncomfortable. The announcement made me sound like the leader of the free world of HR – which I’m not. I know we’re trying to drive attendance, and I know there are some folks who think I have important things to say (and I’m grateful for that), but I was uncomfortable being lauded at such great lengths.
Not that I haven’t accomplished some pretty terrific things in my leadership career. I have. But. I didn’t accomplish any of them in a vacuum. I always had a team of exceptional colleagues who worked with me and alongside me to accomplish great things. It’s called being a leader. And I think that – especially today – successful leaders need equal doses of healthy egos and equally healthy humility. The healthy ego part is the part that makes us think we can be leaders. That we do know where to go and how to get there. The healthy humility part is the part that makes us human; that makes us authentic; that enables us to engage our teams in the work and vision for the future. And keeps us grounded in the knowledge that we’re not terribly unique and can be replaced at any time.
So when I read with sadness about Mark Hurd’s dismissal from HP I thought to myself, “here’s another leader who got the humility part of leadership wrong.” Because it’s the lack of humility that tells leaders the rules don’t apply to them. It’s the lack of humility that leads them to believe the stuff their PR departments publish.
By all accounts Mark Hurd was thought to be a good guy. Fudging expense reports isn’t on the same level as Charlie Rangel’s alleged improprieties, or Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling’s criminal looting of Enron, or Eliot Spitzer’s total moral collapse – or is it? I think the case could be made that fudging expense reports is the conscious choosing of ego over humility that says: I’m more important than anyone else; what I want is more important than anything else. More important than being honest; more important than my integrity; more important than the the organization I lead. Even if he hadn’t been caught, wasn’t this the first step to a total disregard of the humility required to be an authentic leader?
It seems to me that too many leaders (in business as well as politics) start to believe their own press and then start to believe that they’re so special/so effective/so beloved/so famous that the rules don’t apply to them. Humility is subsumed by ego and the ability to lead evaporates.
So the question remains: why do so many powerful and effective leaders start to believe their own press when the consequences are so clear?
The learning for me as I look for my next leadership job is this: I don’t believe my own press today and I won’t believe it tomorrow. I promise.
(But still come to RecruitFest!. It will be awesome!)