LESSONS FROM THE PAST 22- The Critical Quality of Humility
There was a time in the past when the ideal mix for a successful executive was represented by THC. In all my presentations, I kept harping on this formula- the key to open closed doors. 
 
Technical skills, was generally the first key for the entrance door. That is how one got a job in the first place—as an engineer, or accountant or any such profession. 
Then you made progress by inculcating or further developing Human skills. 
 
One got to manage people below, above, and around—both inside and outside the company—with a combination of empathy and sympathy, as may be relevant. 
 
To this was added a large dose of communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal, together with a large dose of silence (as a part of communication). 
 
There were then a few (only a few), who developed conceptual skills. It was the ability to see the big picture. Also to visualise and anticipate the future, and get your team and company to try and be ahead of the race—to not only survive, but if possible, to succeed!
 
Later came amendments to the THC formula—the most important being the addition of “h”- meaning, a sense of humour. 
 
Humour would help to add a human touch—to be able to laugh through, to see the world with a glint in the eye. Hence many situations would not be a bundle of burnt out possibilities in the worst scenarios. One would still see light at the end of the tunnel.
 
I had once organised a personal meeting of the chief executive officer (CEO) of a large company from India, with the developer of a new technology in US. 
 
The technology could change the profile of the products in India and give them a head-on lead. The meeting was arranged in the bar lounge of the New York hotel, where we were staying—and was scheduled for 7pm- just for an initial chat, a drink, and snacks. 
 
I had known that the CEO was close to being an 'alcoholic'—so I had warned him in advance—No drinking before the meeting (as subtly as I could). 
 
But he did not heed my advice, probably thinking that he was too senior to take such advice from a young consultant. We were both waiting for the CEO from 7pm, and he arrived only at 7.30pm, when we had begun to get impatient. 
 
When he came to our table, I immediately knew he had exceeded his 'quota.' He seemed unsteady. 
 
I pulled out a chair for him. He missed sitting down squarely and tumbled onto the floor with the chair in tow.  
 
A slight commotion in the bar with people looking across. I was embarrassed and murmured my apologies. After all, this was an initial meeting for two prospective parties to benefit from doing business together. 
 
My plans had fallen flat, just like the CEO had!  
 
And then Mr Murphy, who was still standing and waiting to be introduced, broke the ice with “Don’t worry too much Walter,” he said. “It’s just that the chair had only three legs!” 
 
We all burst out laughing—including neighbours at the other tables. We took our seats, and moved on.  
 
The “h” had saved the situation, although I must confess that the collaboration never went through.  In retrospect, I feel it was because of the “three legs.”  
 
Remember the adage, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression!”
 
But it was Dr Jean Pierre Lehman of INSEAD, who added another 'h' to make it THC-2h. It was adding Humility to the h for humor. 
 
When asked why 'humility?' he said leadership today needs genuine global knowledge, and it takes interest, time, and humility, to keep learning. 
 
The new leader, whether in business, bureaucracy, or politics, has to go back to Leo Tolstoy’s story of the “hedgehog and the fox”. 
 
The hedgehog digs and digs and knows a lot about a very limited space. The fox runs and runs and knows only superficially about a very large area. 
 
The ideal person in today’s world has to be a hybrid of the two. The day a person feels that he knows everything – and there is nothing worth knowing that he does not know, it is the end of a career which would otherwise have been successful. 
 
There are many who have taught me this lesson. 
 
In the US, Philip Kotler, known as the guru of marketing, would be sitting at classes addressed even by me at the Kellogg Business School, right on the front bench and taking notes. 
 
When I saw this for the first time, I was embarrassed. What is it that I teach which you already do not know? I asked him. 
 
He said the cases studies that I give. They cannot be found easily. So, he takes notes and keeps them and often uses them. 
 
In India, I was always impressed with Prakash Tandon, former chairman of Levers India. He always carried a small pad and a pen to note down anything that struck him as unusual and thought provoking. “That was a nice phrase you used Walter, let me take it down. I will also be able to use this sometime.”
 
Compliments from the Masters. But also, lessons for me in humility – learning from the “greats.” 
 
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia. His latest 3 books written in collaboration are 5Gs of Family Business; Marketing in a Digital/ data world; and Customer Value Starvation can kill. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)
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