Every now and then, my parents (image to the right, both deceased) would let me know that I was getting “too big for my britches.” My father seemed to be particularly tuned in to those who were prideful—especially if they treated others with disdain. Having pride in your work and accomplishments was acceptable, even encouraged. But being prideful about success and flaunting it was not acceptable in their eyes.
As I think about things today, I tend to use the word “arrogant” when pride is carried too far. I am proud of my children’s accomplishments and the fine people they have grown up to be. That doesn’t feel wrong to me. I am generally proud of my own accomplishments, tempered with a strong dose of reality that I did not get to where I am on my own. We all have had plenty of help along the way. Reminding myself of that fact helps keep any pride I feel from growing into arrogance.
On the other hand, arrogance is what gets us in trouble. Arrogance is
often defined as “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.” In some respects, the post last week on Greed showed the difference between pride and arrogance. Hanauer expressed pride in his accomplishments, but a great sense of humility in how he got there—help from others, luck and being in the right place at the right time. He takes credit only for having a high tolerance for risk.
Hanauer describes himself as part of the 0.01% in wealth/income in this country. And he readily admits that he likes his “toys.” He is aware that he lives a lifestyle that most of us can’t even imagine. Yet he is more than willing to call his “fellow plutocrats” to task for not seeing that they have become arrogant. That arrogance will, according to Hanauer, blind them to the reality of what must be done to keep society on a relatively even keel.
Pride and Leadership
It seems to me that pride is an essential part of good leadership. A leader takes pride in building a successful organization. She will also coach those who work for her to take pride in the work they do. Yet along with that feeling of satisfaction in the work accomplished, the real leader exhibits humility. A good leader doesn’t have an exaggerated sense of his abilities or importance. Leaders realize that no individual is indispensable.
These thoughts apply, it seems to me, to organizations as well as to individuals. If we build an organization with a culture that takes pride in the products and services it delivers, yet remains open to the options for improvement, then we will have a fun and challenging place in which to work.
The work my father did was hard, dirty construction work—commercial boiler construction and repair. I worked many summers with him when I was on school break. It was his habit, at the end of each workday, to stop and assess what had been accomplished. He often would say, “We can be proud of the work we did today.” Sometimes, I would just see it in his eyes, even though he didn’t voice his pleasure. And on those days when everything seemed to go wrong, his disappointment was just as visible.
My work today doesn’t include much physical handiwork. Instead, I find myself in the so-called “knowledge worker” group. Lots of listening, thinking, teaching, writing, and coaching. Still, that daily habit my father taught me sticks despite working mostly with my head instead of my back and hands. I ask myself, can I be proud of what I accomplished today?
Quiet pride is indeed a desirable trait for a leader. How are your people doing in this regard? Are they proud of their work? Have you built an environment (a culture) where it is imperative that at the end of the day you can say you are proud of what you accomplished?