B-School Lessons: The Power of Humility

Photograph by John Greim/Getty Images

Why is it we often have to lose someone in order to appreciate that person’s contribution to society? A family friend recently passed away. As I reflect on the loss to his family and to those of us who had the pleasure of knowing him, I was thinking of what it was that made him such a special person. I’d like to share a few of these thoughts with you as many of you begin your careers or start business school.

One of the things I have learned through my career is that if you treat others well, they will respect you and perform well for the organization. Treating people with dignity and respect is a no-brainer, yet so many people have a hard time doing this. As they head out into the world, business school graduates should model the best behaviors they’ve experienced. Being a “gentleman” (like my friend) is perceived today as being old fashioned, but these are words that we shouldn’t lose from our vocabulary. You will be respected and remembered if you behave with class and in a way that makes each individual you work with feel important and valued. With my friend, I always felt as if I were the only one in the room speaking with him.

As accomplished as my friend was, he was an incredibly humble individual. He always seemed to be more interested in what you had accomplished than in sharing his own achievements. Although he had earned a very senior level in a major corporation, I had to dig to find that out. I am sure he wasn’t aware that he came across as such a humble man, but he did.

There are a lot of things you will accomplish and accolades you will receive both in business school and in your career. It is easy to let those words and the emotion go to your head. My advice is to enjoy the moment, but do not lose sight of the fact that you are an individual who has accomplished much among a very elite group of other individuals who are equally accomplished.

In life, we are each just one member of the team. In the sport of crew, every person on the shell must work equally hard in order to win as a team. Coxswains motivate the team, but each person in that shell must work in sync in order for the team to do well. My friend taught me that during our career, we move between coxswain and rower. The most successful rowing teams are filled with people who recognize the value of each person.

As you start business school or your first job post-MBA, remember: You’re part of the team. Treat others well and remember who you are. If so, you will go far.

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