Give Me Some Modesty

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Your personal success is the result of only a measure of your personal drive and talents; the rest has to do with the people around you.

July 01, 2003

 

Dean Horowitz, Publisher

In the past 24 months, we've learned of business-people who abandoned a simple, humble approach to living a business life in favor of the boisterous drive for self-gratification. Cash flowed to this group, who were all about themselves. They knew that if they didn't get what they believed they deserved, the other "guy" would take it.

These self-absorbed individuals left behind marks made with overly ambitious feet, marks made on the ones who caringly nurtured their promise, never expecting -- nor questioning -- those they served. These individuals exemplified the Greek myth of Icarus, the son who flew too high with his wax wings.

The rest of us watch the many falls from the sky by the ones who flew too close to the sun. Martha, Ken, Dennis and the rest. Their faces now grace funny postcards and Internet sites. Their arms no longer ring the closing Wall Street bell and instead steady them up and down courthouse stairs. Their days as business role models end with lessons for the rest of us who still labor each day.

Instead of press accounts of business leaders gone bad, today we learn from characters such as the ones profiled in Jim Collins' recent book Good to Great. His research holds up the unglamorous CEOs, the ones delivering long-term value to their stockholders and the world economy. Their focus on business results, not personal recognition, delivers their organizations to market leader status.

Ram Charan's book Execution presents the same ideas. You must execute to be successful, and then you must measure and change accordingly as a result of this success. Business is hard, and the astute manager knows arrogance doesn't blend in an environment with such dynamic changes.

Steve Jobs of Apple Computer and Richard Branson of Virgin don't exactly embody the term modesty. Their loud, aggressive, passionate brands speak as much to the founder as to the product. Each individual makes "rain" for his or her company. Sure, their egos fill a room, but why are they different from those with the wax wings? They focus on the products they make and the customers they serve. Modesty here is not in the vision but in the way the actions can be interpreted in the ultimate goals of the organization.

"A computer for the rest of us" is a powerful line. The line might be from Jobs, but it is about the products his company is dedicated to making. When we read about the music industry being transformed because of Jobs' vision and the beauty of the iPod appliance, we don't think about his personal ambition. We think about the cool stuff Apple is bringing us, its customers. In a less obvious way, modesty lives here, too. Again, it is about the products.

A return to modesty might be the result of our current economy. As jobs seem less steady, self-esteem is adjusted as well. No one in business today feels certain. Hey, we are involved in home building, the smiley-faced sector of the economy, yet few of us feel so confident that land is purchased for a decade's worth of growth or a company is staffed for a risky venture. No, we see where that takes you. We are careful. We want to be certain.

One of the best elements in this is the return of we. A realization that your personal success is the result of only a measure of your personal drive and talents; the rest has to do with the people around you and the "luck" they have created for you. The I is gone for most.

We reflect on the people around us who achieve wonderful things and assist us in obtaining many of our personal goals. The mature realization: It isn't our "invention" but instead the result of the hard work of many significant people, individuals who study and learn their markets, establish the contacts, do the research and essentially pay their dues every day.

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