Two-Time USA Memory Champion; memory training expert and memory keynote speaker Ron White shares his thoughts on professional humility and how important it is to a leader.

One major point my friend and mentor, former US Navy SEAL  T.C. Cummings, emphasizes in his leadership workshops it the importance of professional humility. The following lesson is excerpted from TC Cummings’ Mind of a SEAL series.

Being humble does not mean you are a doormat, allowing others to take the credit for what you do. A humble man has the strength of character to realize he does not know all the answers, and is not afraid to change direction if he sees things going wrong. He accepts responsibility for his decisions, as well as the decisions of those around him – sharing in the praise, but is accountable for results either way. This is the basis for a good leader.

Professional humility allows for openness of communication, and a true leader knows that good ideas and great wisdom are not limited to rank or tenure. A humble leader is not boastful of his/her accomplishments. They act with decisiveness and integrity, and inspire through actions and not publicity.

One of  T.C. Cummings biggest lessons in our leadership workshop on the “Think Like a US Navy SEAL” is that a real leader motivates others to greatness, and channels his/her own ambition to set up those around them to succeed – thereby grooming more leaders. They look in the mirror and like what they see, and do not stare out the window and dream of what they can be. They are movers and shakers behind the scenes, not in front of the cameras.

A humble leader is confident in his own capabilities, enough to allow those around him to shine. He does not have to be the light in order to bask in the glow. He learns from others, and passes that knowledge along, giving credit where credit is due – but also holding himself accountable for the actions of those around him if things go wrong.

Navy SEALs groom each other to be leaders. They have officers with rank, as in any organization or structure, but they know that at any one time even the lowest ranking among them may have to accept the leadership role, and it is built into their training.  If one member of the Seal team cannot accept leadership when it is needed, the entire team is at risk.

If a ranking SEAL officer cannot allow each member a voice, or is afraid to lose control, he jeopardizes the entire team and HE becomes the liability. If personal insecurities are allowed to interfere with his ability to pass the baton, as you will, he is not an effective leader and is released from the program.

A leader does not REACT to the situation, even though they may want to. They step back, listen to others and access the situation before taking any action. After evaluation they provide consequences that will be fair and effective – and not in public, but in private. My favorite analogy is from an old Texas saying: “Find out why the fence was put up before you take it down.” If you don’t get all the facts before proceeding you may take inappropriate action, and you could lose the respect of those around you.

Baseball great, pitcher Sandy Koufax, was one of those unique players who never spent a day in the minor leagues. He went right into the majors, but his pitching at the beginning was erratic, and not controlled.

In 1961, the Dodgers were minus a few pitchers and were trying to conserve Koufax’s energy. Backup catcher Norm Sherry went out to the mound and told Koufax to ease up on throwing the ball as hard as he normally did, and to concentrate more on getting it over the strike zone. Koufax walked to the mound, bases loaded in the first, and did exactly as Sherry suggested – and pitched a no-hitter.

“Koufax had heard that before, but now he seemed to get it, and it made him a much better pitcher.  “In the past I’d go out there, and every pitch I threw, I’d try to throw harder than the last one,” Koufax would later say.  “From then [1961] on I tried to throw strikes and make them hit the ball.  The whole difference was control.  Not just controlling the ball, but controlling myself, too.”  In 1961, he compiled an 18-13 record with 269 strikeouts, breaking Christy Mathewson’s 58-year-old NL record of 267.  He was also an All-Star selection that year and every year thereafter through 1966.

Think what would not have happened if he were arrogant enough to not take the advice of a back-up catcher! That is professional humility!

Learn more about TC Cummings’ Mind of a US Navy SEAL program



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