Jack was heading up a division of a large firm. His division made and sold a vast array of products, so there was lot to keep track of. Jack was the total package. Smart, well-presented and very approachable. He was also extremely driven and susceptible to becoming distracted. When I met with Jack for our coaching sessions, we would sit at a table in his office. When he felt that the session was over he would simply get up and move to his desk. On one of these occasions I asked him, “Are we done?” Then I told him that he reminded me of my saintly grandmother. He raised an eyebrow. I explained, “When I spoke to my grandmother on the phone she would never say good-bye. She just hung up when she was done with the conversation. The first couple of times this happened I found myself still on the phone repeating, “Gram? Gram?”
I wanted to find out if this distractibility was a function of the demands of Jack’s work environment or something that showed up in the rest of his life as well. I asked if I could get some feedback from his wife. He was happy to allow me do so. Jack’s wife Jennifer, was a pleasure to speak with, bright and insightful. She knew Jack in a way that few others did. She did allow as to how Jack was a little distractible from time to time particularly when he was under a lot of stress. What was more interesting to me however, was her comment on how Jack saw himself. She told me, “He thinks he’s just lucky.” You mean lucky to be where he is in his career?” I asked. She said, “Yes”. I said, “Nobody is that lucky. He has worked like a fiend for 15 years. That’s how he has gotten to be so lucky.” Jack’s wife said, “I tell him that all the time.” Jack was lucky. He was lucky to be blessed with intelligence, high energy and a very strong work ethic. He was a living example of perhaps the most important leadership competency. He knew how to steward and develop his talent and abilities, then use them in the service of others.
I believe deeply in the power and importance of humility and gratitude. But I don’t believe that these virtues are meant to serve as limits. I define humility as being as good as others, not better and not worse. I believe we need more humble leaders. Arrogant leaders tend to cause a lot of problems over time, even if they are successful short term.