Leadership And Humility: How Much And When?

Discussions of leadership are ubiquitous. Everyone has a view.

What comes to mind when you think of leadership? Vision, intelligence, focus, and integrity are certainly up there for most. I personally favor decisiveness and the ability to execute in my list of top leadership traits. But what about humility? Where does the ability to be modest rank amongst leadership characteristics?

To Socrates in Ancient Greece, humility was most important. “According to Socrates, wisdom lies in the recognition of one’s own ignorance. Intellectual humility, then, seems to be the virtue of highest importance for Socrates, combined with a willingness to examine one’s life and actions in a rigorous and humble manner.” 

Today humility is often included in the description of emotional intelligence. The concept of emotional intelligence was popularized in 1995 with the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Goleman said that emotional intelligence (EQ) consists of self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy, and motivation. Central to emotional intelligence is the idea that it can be more important than IQ. Many have asserted that EQ is a better predictor of lifetime success than IQ.

Recommended For You

In the past six or seven months, our leaders have been tested in ways that were previously beyond imagination. Covid-19 has rocked the world and 2020 has been a year of strife and chaos to say the least. At times like these, we feel vulnerable, at risk and exposed. Consequently, we look to our leaders to provide guidance, wisdom, and direction. We look to our leaders to lead. And this includes self-awareness, empathy and of course, humility.

So, it is in these circumstances that an article in a Texas magazine called Paper City gained notoriety. In the September issue of this magazine, the CEO of Neiman Marcus, Geoffrey van Raemdonck is featured in an 11-page spread showing his multi-million home flush with 18th century Chinese plates and a chicken coop so elaborate, the author describes it as “more Versailles than farmhouse.”

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the fruits of your labor and living well. In fact, if there is anything to be learned from Covid-19 it is that life is precious and to be enjoyed. As well, our homes have become our sanctuaries and safe havens during this time when venturing out is fraught with so many risks. For many, our homes are now also our workplaces and may be so indefinitely. So again, no one is questioning the importance of a home that is gratifying and enjoyable.

However, putting this on full display right now is really a lapse in judgement. A lapse in emotional intelligence. Neiman Marcus filed for bankruptcy in May. It emerged from bankruptcy a few weeks ago and is beginning layoffs. A difficult time to say the least.  Showcasing riches can be questionable at the best of times but when one’s employees are losing their jobs and your company is emerging from bankruptcy seems like an example of being tone deaf.

Another item to consider is the overall messaging and communications strategy of Neiman Marcus during this stage of emergence from bankruptcy. It is critically important that the company regain the trust of customers, suppliers, and the market. This means being laser-focused on strategy and rebuilding the business for future growth and success. Nothing should take away from this, most certainly not attention to the CEO’s wealth and personal possessions.

Undoubtedly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wealth and success and not to be faulted. However, senior leaders, particularly in times of hardship within their companies, need to be mindful of what they stand for and exemplify. Sensitivity to employees is really a non-negotiable for any CEO these days.

They say that timing is everything. In this case, it is not so much that the magazine spread portrays a house that most can only dream about but given all that Neiman Marcus, it’s industry and our world has gone through, best to be low key about the divide between those who have and those who do not. At least for now.

Comments are closed.