Do You Suck The Oxygen Out Of The Room?

January 14, 2014 Vince Molinaro

The best man for the job

About year ago, I was chatting with a senior executive at a large organization that had just seen a new CEO arrive on the scene. I asked how it was going and she said that the striking thing about the new CEO was that he was very “self-effacing.”

She contrasted this as a big change from the former CEO who while being very smart, was brash and lacking in modesty. She said, “He would suck all the oxygen out of any room because the attention always had to be on him.”

She then proceeded to explain how things already were different with the new CEO. First off, the daily drama created by the previous CEO was elimated. Other leaders in the company began to step up as “more space” was created for them. There was a great sense of collaboration among the senior leaders because the new CEO started to acknowledge the impact and contribution of others. Essentially, the oxygen was being shared and everyone could see and feel the difference.

We all know leaders out there who are over-confident and self-centered. However, the propensity to be brash and consumed with one’s own personal agenda can come at the expense of a company’s agenda.

We also know that this approach can undermine a leader and the organizations they lead.

I believe a different leadership style – one that is more self-effacing may be just what’s needed instead.

In fact, you can see the business world starting to celebrate examples of self-effacing leaders. For example, Wall Street cannot say enough good things about leaders like Citigroup CEO Michael L. Corbat.

Wall Street isn’t typically known for its quiet and humble leaders. Yet, within that world, Corbat has not only helped to stabilize Citigroup, but he has done it without making himself the central focus of stories about the bank’s efforts to settle lawsuits and investigations and return to profitability.

This stands in stark contrast to other Wall Street CEOs who had either become synonymous with, or in some cases eclipsed, the brand of the companies they lead. They were constantly being quoted in the media and were darlings of the social elite circuits. Many of those leaders now find themselves as the poster-children for the greed and excess behind the U.S. mortgage crisis.

The fact is that some of the most effective executives have always known that modesty (not false modesty) can be a tremendously successful leadership attribute.

Unfortunately many misinterpret this approach as weak. But I find truly great leaders know that it takes real personal strength and self-confidence to stay out of the lime light, allowing others to take their fair share of the credit. These leaders are comfortable in their own skin and it’s reflected in how they lead.

Is a self-effacing style a new model of leadership? (Tweet this)

Quiet self-confidence and modest charisma can be very attractive in a leader. These can help grow confidence in the organizations they lead. It helps build true partnerships with stakeholders. It reduces or eliminates the drama that often surrounds self-centered leaders.

So this week’s gut check asks you to reflect on the following question: do you suck the oxygen out of a room or do you have the personal strength to be a self-effacing leader?

Follow me @VinceMolinaro

About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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