I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
“But if I don’t blow my own horn, how will anyone know what I’ve done? I’ll never get ahead.”
It’s become somewhat of a truism that if you don’t call attention somehow to your own achievements, no one else will. But the rules of logic would say that’s simply an assertion. Let’s look at the facts.
To Be Level 5 or Not to Be
Probably the most compelling work I have seen on the subject of self-promotion vs. humility is the discussion of Level 5 leadership in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. Collins’ goal was to identify why some companies can make the transition from being just pretty good to being truly great performers…. They found that one of the essential factors in the leap from “good to great” was a form of leadership based on humility and a focus on the organization which Collins and his team dubbed “Level 5 leadership.” Look at a brief synopsis of the findings in a comparison between the two “successful” types, with Level 5 being clearly superior to Level 4 in overall results:
- Builds enduring greatness
- Personal humility—does not seek the light
- Ambition for the purpose of the institution
- Sets the successors up for success
- Looks out the window—credits others for success
- Looks in the mirror—assigns responsibility for failure
- Builds commitment to a vision
- Stimulates high performance standards
- Large ego – high level of personal charisma
- Does not provide for the successors
- Looks out the window to place blame
- Looks in the mirror to claim success
What they found rather amazed them. Many of the companies that actually had the best sustained results over time and that at some point had begun that trend upward were actually somewhat obscure. One reason they were obscure was that their CEOs were people who shunned the limelight and tended to talk in terms of “we” not “me.” It was not that Level 4 leaders were poor. They did succeed, but they did not succeed as fully as the Level 5 leaders. And more importantly, their organizations did not sustain the success after they left….
The Derailment Conspiracy
Yet our eyes do not deceive us; self promoters can and do get ahead. Although Level 4 leaders are more about personal charisma, blaming others and taking personal credit, they do get results—mostly short term. But, they also derail at a relatively high rate…
It turns out that the lessons of leadership are as old as Ozymandius or Achilles: pride generally goes before a fall. You do not have to toot your own horn, but you should persist in acting with both humility and a resolute focus on the mission. Don’t get discouraged by lack of recognition or early success. Build up the people around you and give them credit—and do the same for your boss. In the long run, at the end of the marathon, you will be working in a better organization with better results and people will love coming to work with and for you. That’s a legacy well earned.
Excerpted from “Getting Ahead Without Tooting Your Own Horn” by Ray Blunt. Read the entire article HERE.
You can also read another take on the subject by John Maxwell’s Leadership Wired team regarding “Humility or Self-Promotion,” HERE.
Ozymandias was published by Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1818.