Deflecting Praise

Sep 12, 2005

In observing firm leaders of A/E and other firms over the years, one quality stands out in the best of them. These leaders do something that endears them to all in their employ— they deflect any praise they receive and instead “pass it on” to those who work for them. I have seen this repeatedly. An A/E/P or environmental firm makes The Zweig Letter Hot Firm List and the CEO’s response to everyone who congratulates them is that the credit is all due to their staff. When I look back on my own managerial career, I must admit that I can’t claim I always behaved this way. I was often too interested in getting things done my way. And perhaps I was only too glad to get any recognition when it all worked out. Maybe if I had been better about seeing my success through others I would have had more loyalty from a few of those good employees who decided to leave on their own. A little humility goes a long way to building staff loyalty. A lot of humility goes even farther. I just saw an article in a magazine on Doyle Z. Williams, the just-retired dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business here in Fayetteville. In it, his many accomplishments were cited, including getting the Walton School up to the 24th-ranked public college of business in the U.S. The ever-humble Doyle deflected all praise and instead passed it along to the faculty and staff. Needless to say, his successor, our new dean Dan Worrell, will have a hard act to follow and some big shoes to fill. Fortunately, Dan is cut from the same cloth when it comes to being a praise deflector. Organizations of all types that are successful for the long haul promote this type of leadership. Or, perhaps I should say leaders who act this way create long-term success in their organizations. Maybe it’s time for a little self-examination and introspection. What is your personal leadership style? Do you get glory from seeing everyone else succeed? Or do you only feel good about your own personal accomplishments? If it’s the latter, maybe you need to think about what your best place in the company really is and clear out some room for someone who deflects praise. They may be better suited for the long race. It’s really hard to be brutally honest with someone. It’s even harder being brutally honest with yourself. The personality characteristics in a particular leader that make a new company successful may not be what it takes to run a mature company that is in it for the long game. Know yourself. Change to shore up your weaknesses. And if you cannot or don’t want to, get out of the way for someone who can. Everyone will be happier in the long haul! Originally published 09/12/2005

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.