At the risk of dating myself, when I was growing up it was fairly common for one to be cautioned not to “get too big for your britches.” Consider it a Midwestern reframe of the admonition from Proverbs 16:18 that “Pride goeth . . . before the fall.” It seems that a growing number of people in positions of leadership today could use a reminder of that basic principle. It is not about you . . . really.
I understand that there can be a whole lot of gray in the world of leadership. You chart a course for your organization . . . things go well, you’re hearing positive feedback that you are on the right path . . . you feel emboldened to move farther down that path, downplaying the voices of caution because, well, just look at all of your (umm . . . your organization’s) accomplishments. It is about this time that one of those voices of caution might be coming from inside, pointing out that your britches are getting a bit tight.
It is true that when you are in a position of leadership, you have to make hard decisions that some might not agree with. The fact that the call is yours to make, however, in no way means it is okay to stop listening to others. You are able to make the best decisions, in part, because you consider views that may differ from your own. Your primary goal is to make the best choice for your organization. Why would you not want to hear a range of opinions?
It takes a confident leader, whose britches fit well, to seek the insight of those who have a different perspective. Being respectful of someone who sees things differently than you do is a reflection of your leadership not a validation of their argument. Jim Collins talks about Level 5 Leadership, which is the balance of personal humility and fierce resolve on behalf of your organization. That’s the trick to make sure you don’t get too big for your britches. The focus should be on getting it right for your organization, not you being right.
Oh, and one more thing . . . just like staying in good physical shape, deciding not to get too big for your britches can’t be a one-time decision. You have to make an awareness of the slippery slope of over-confidence an on-going part of your leadership journey. Sure, we all go there once in a while — consider it your periodic hot fudge sundae — but on a day-in, day-out basis, keep the focus where it belongs – on your organization – and you won’t have to worry about fitting into your britches!