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Usually, when somebody sees a successful person, they want to spend time with them and be like them. But if the person who’s made it to the top behaves arrogantly, all bets are off. That leader can quickly lose respect.
This sequence happens all the time in organizations. But if you can demonstrate humility even as you take your spot on the winner’s podium, success will keep on coming.
Point out others who put in effort
Name one leader who does everything in their organization completely on their own. I’ll wait.
Even if you’re a solopreneur, other people have likely lent you a hand, whether investing in your idea or just bringing you lunch while you hustle. And in a typical company, there’s simply no logistical way for a leader to be everywhere, know everything, or have every skill. So if you’ve found success, it’s because a lot of great people around you have contributed just as much as you.
I stay grounded about the contributions of others by not letting our marketing department use the word “I” in our content. If we announce an award I’m getting, I insist on celebrating it as a team win. We’ll share that I’m accepting the award on behalf of the company and highlight the larger business framework when announcing awards. When we sold the company and people acknowledged how I’d led the deal, I thanked the employees for their compliments but insisted that the result wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t been such a great team. And trust me, when you do this your team can smell whether it’s authentic or not, so be genuine!
Of course, people genuinely want to see that you’ve accomplished something — so you shouldn’t mute yourself as a leader. But people also want you to acknowledge them and admit that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Plus, if you’re successful, it’s already assumed that you’ve done great. Learn how to absorb compliments without constantly shining your trophies.
Be available and personable
Recently, I texted somebody I’d gone to high school with. They texted back and told me not to worry about them because they knew I had enough going on and that I was “super busy.” I replied and told them there’s never so much going on that I don’t have time for them.
It’s true that I’m busy. But if I neglected to reply, my friend would have had the impression that I’m not available anymore. That kind of perception can have big consequences for a career. Suppose my friend comes across someone who potentially could do business with my company. Do I want my friend to see and portray me to others as grounded enough to text back if they send over someone’s contact information? Or do I want to send the message that I’m out of reach?
Balancing humility and success is ensuring you’re available and personable. If you don’t write the narrative that people can come to you, people will write an alternate narrative for you, and it won’t be nearly as pretty. And if you are responsible for your company’s business results, you always want people to feel you are available.
Openly own your flubs
Like other companies, our team has decided to think critically about recruiting, hiring and succession planning. Recently, we made a new hire and I was quick to note to their manager that I didn’t think they were a good fit based on a few poor showings in meetings. A few weeks later, I plopped down in that person’s office and admitted that I’d been wrong — the new hire had proven to be a great fit for the company. The manager told me how much he appreciated my honesty and how we could be open about the improvement we saw in the employee.
Aside from hiring, you’ll make plenty of blunders, and owning them can be scary. But when you’re honest, then when you have to stand up and declare a decision, people trust you. They’ll have seen plenty of moments where you were open, so they won’t question your judgment or leadership overall.
Act like it’s not your first race
Early in my career, when I was about 24 years old, I was working for a Fortune 100 company. I had the opportunity to ride the company helicopter to get on a private jet. The security guard could see my huge smile from a mile away. He turned to me and said, “Son, act like you’ve been here before.”
I couldn’t help but remember that advice throughout my career — most recently when I was in a meeting with somebody who’d just had some success of their own, I saw them bragging about the new condo they were building and showing everyone dozens of pictures from their phone. Even though I understood that they were excited and proud of what they were able to do, they didn’t realize it made them look like a chump who’d never had a big win. The security guard’s words came to mind immediately.
It’s an ongoing wrestling match, but balance is attractive
I’ve been fortunate to have people early in my career who reminded me that, for all of my success, I needed to get over myself and let people see my real journey. Even so, the balancing act between humility and success is still a daily wrestling match for me. It likely will be for you, too. But your choice won’t change — every day, you can invite people to see both your struggles and wins. My experience has shown that doing that makes you significantly more relatable and likable, so don’t be afraid to take pride in where you are while showing warts and all.