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Three Profiles in Organizational Humility
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And like WalMart, people of every rank and age and gender were treated with uniform levels of respect and kindness. My father, who had served as an enlisted man in the army for a few years more than thirty years ago, was treated by three star generals as though he were their military peer. So many people who have never known a West Point cadet or visited the campus assume that arrogance and macho must rule the day there. Nothing could be further from the truth. While there is certainly no lack of courage and character among the men and women who attend and run the institution, none of them seem to have a need to prove that to anyone other than themselves. God Bless them for what they're doing.

The final organization I want to cite for its humility is a high school football team. Actually, it's not a team so much as it is a school and a sports program. I live near De La Salle High School, an all-male Christian Brothers institution that has become known for being the best high school football team in the history of the sport, or for that matter, any sport. Over the course of fifteen years, the team won 151 consecutive games, and traveled extensively to play the best teams they could find.

I had heard many stories about the De La Salle football factory over the years, and the allegations of recruiting great players from faraway places to stack the deck in their favor. All of which led to my astonishment at what I would find when I attended a few of their games and came to know something about their coach and program in general. First, walking into their "stadium" is both a letdown and a breath of fresh air. The facility itself is tiny. Tiny. After more than twenty years of unparalleled success, most schools would have been tempted to construct a monument to football. Not De La Salle. You can drive by the school and pass the field and mistake it for a junior high school.

On top of that, there is not mention anywhere of the exploits of the football team. No championship signs. No shrine to their coaches or players. Nothing. The only meaningful tribute I've ever seen there was a painting of a player who was tragically murdered last year. And that's the thing about De La Salle. It's not about football, or championships, or fame. It's about the way people treat people.

I had a chance to hear the team's head coach speak at an event last year, and I can honestly say that I've never been moved so much by a talk. Coach Ladoceur was not stylishly dressed, and was by no means a particularly eloquent or fiery or demonstrative speaker. Keep in mind that this is a guy who has been profiled on ESPN and in Sports Illustrated, and has had many of the nation's finest coaches at every level seek his advice. I would have expected even a bad high school football coach to be a little brash. But Ladoceur oozed humility. Every statement he made had meaning, and almost none of it was about him. He talked about the fact that he considers himself a religion teacher and character mentor first and foremost, and that he does not and never will actively recruit kids to come to his school. He said he admires his players for having skills and talents and potential that he could only dream of. And there was no doubt in my mind that he meant every word he said.

What did I learn from WalMart, West Point and De La Salle? That humility is powerful, but cannot be attained out of desire for power. It is its own aim, and its own reward. I also learned that one of the costs of being humbly successful is that others will throw stones at you, and that humility requires that you throw none back.

Finally, I realized that humble organizations are open to learning from others. WalMart and West Point had asked me to come teach them about teamwork. As I told them, that seemed ridiculous to me. But as they told me, there is always more that they can learn. Which is what humility is all about, I suppose.

Patrick Lencioni is the author of Four Leadership Fables including The New York Times best-seller, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Patrick is also the president of The Table Group, a San Francisco Bay Area management consulting firm specializing in executive team development and organizational health. He can be reached at: patricklencioni@tablegroup.com


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