When Does Pride Become a Deadly Sin?

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”
– Thomas Merton

At my family’s end-of-summer Marshmallow Roast, we took turns sharing and debating what we felt each person’s best and worst qualities were. When it was my turn to hear what my worst quality was, it was unanimous. Pride. I felt humbled but not terribly surprised. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m a Leo or due to my years as a Manager. Probably a little of both. In any case, I know it is something I need to work on.

Pride is a double-edged sword. At it’s best, it leads to self-respect and camaraderie. At its worst, it harbors arrogance and segregation.

Management especially is prone to the dark side of pride. As a traditional manager, I was rewarded for nerves of steel, grace under pressure and flawless execution. I was proud of my ability to control any situation. People looked to me for answers. I often struggled with transparency of my thoughts and deeds when I didn’t have the answers. Under the guise of wanting to avoid unnecessarily alarming my staff, I would hold off sharing bad or embarrassing news until I was able to put the right “spin” on it. What I’ve come to realize is that in an emerging Agile organization, the more unexpected or embarrassing the truth is, the more transparent leadership needs to be. It models vulnerability and builds trust. In a complex universe, flawless execution is not possible.

The more unexpected or embarrassing the truth is, the more transparent leadership needs to be

Hypothetically Speaking

As the manager of a multi-million-dollar bet-your-company portfolio of products, you’ve suddenly uncovered a fatal flaw in the hypotheses underlying the viability of the solutions your product teams are working on. Hypotheses that had been vetted by your hand-picked team of experts. What will you do next?

  • Cover your tracks?
  • Lay blame?
  • Ask for help?
  • Take control?

In similar situations, I’m sure you’ve seen examples of managers choosing each of the options.

Vulnerabiity and Trust

What would I do? Swallow my pride and ask for help. In an age of knowledge workers, management no longer has a monopoly on good decision-making. The workers closest to the work are often in a better position to decide on their work. They just need to be given a chance to realize it. Tear down the façade of management infallibility and do what’s best for the company. Admitting you’re wrong is never easy. To admit you’re wrong and then to ask for help is not only difficult but is a sign of weakness. Or is it?

When faced with such a difficult choice in an emerging Agile organization, what’s the bigger opportunity? How can we turn this management dilemma into a teaching moment for the teams? Admitting you’re wrong is cathartic. Admitting you’re wrong and then asking for help takes courage, models vulnerability, creates safety and reinforces collective ownership. All important ingredients for an Agile environment.

The more we ask for help, the stronger and more self-sufficient the teams will become.

So, what would you do?

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