From good to great… to being humble



“GOOD is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life,” so declares Jim Collins, a best-selling author, in his 2001 opus. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t.

Collins discusses many ideas about how organizations can become good to great. What strikes me the most, however, is you can become great, only if you’re humble. He calls it Level 5 Leadership – leaders who are humble, but driven to do what’s best for the company. Unfortunately, in today’s world, it is difficult to find humility among our corporate leaders. That’s why they’re not great.

For instance, the lack of humility—some might say it’s the lack of protocol—is evident in one revealing photograph that I ve seen on Facebook. Take this: a group of business leaders is shown with President Rodrigo Duterte posing for posterity in an official function in Malacañang. What is quite revealing is that the most senior and presumptive leader of the group is standing three steps away from the president.

Is it not protocol, if not decency, that when you know you are junior to someone else you have to give your place to the most senior official so that s/he can be photographed next to the host—in this case, the highest official of the land? You don’t need an eagle eye to discover that. But of course, you’ve to understand the context. Is there a leadership crisis brewing anywhere?

Business etiquette, among other unwritten rules of good governance, could follow the rules of proper seating arrangement. Etiquette Scholar says, “the place of honor at the table is to the right side of the host because most people are right-handed.” I see no reason why this ground rule can’t be followed when people pose standing up in a firing squad mode for the photographer.

It’s timely, indeed. Humility was the subject of yesterday’s gospel – Luke 14: 8-14 on the parable of wedding feast:

“8When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.

“9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you —‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.

“10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.

“11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Humility is difficult to understand because when people reach a certain status they tend to project themselves more in every situation and in every step of the way so that they will not lose sight of any imaginable status that they want in life.

Dr. Karl Albrecht defines humility as something about “emotional neutrality” and “less a matter of self-restraint and more a matter of self-esteem. The greater your sense of self-worth, the easier it is to appreciate others, to praise them, and to encourage them.” The trouble is that it’s difficult for people to jockey-up for the right position unless a floor director guides them.

In the absence of a floor director, you can achieve, with a little ingenuity, great results by having a humility strategy to discover the perception of people around you. One approach is to arrive at least 30 minutes early for business meetings. This way you can get the best seat in the house, but not necessarily to arrogate the seat reserved for the host or the leader of an organization.

The seat that you’ll choose is the one that gives you a vantage point where you’re fronting the stage or the white screen (for any presentation) while at the same time you can have an easy eyeball-to-eyeball exercise with everyone.

To protect your territory from invaders, ensure that your bag, mobile phone, or whatever props (like a thought-provoking bestseller that you bought from a book sale) to be on top of your desk or chair where you can leave them while you’re at the rest room.

The situation can be applied in a photo session. You know you are fingerling but you can prop yourself up like a mean shark by shunning the chairs. Instead, go upright behind the chairs and position yourself behind the chair at the center.

It’s just like in a game of chess. The one who controls the center of the board would always win.

Now, you know why an average performer can’t be an excellent worker. That’s because it’s easy to become an average person than a great person.

Rey Elbo is a consultant on human resources and total quality management as a fused expertise. Send feedback to or follow him on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


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