Warren Stanford Rustand is past chairman of the World Presidents' Organization (WPO aka YPO Gold), Dean of Learning on the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) MIT Birthing of Giants Program, and Dean of the EO Leadership Academy.
He currently serves as the international chairman of L3, an American leadership group focused on one’s contribution during the second half of life.
He is married and has seven children and nineteen grandchildren.
On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks with Warren Rustand about why humility is the most important leadership quality.
Some Conversation Highlights:
The common concept, the question that I get from folks as it relates to leadership is, nature versus nurture. And I know that you’ve studied this and you have thoughts on it. When people ask you that question, how do you kind of deconstruct that for them?
I do believe we come with a certain genetic package. We come with a certain DNA and there are attributes to that. However, leadership is an acquired skillset. It can be developed. Leadership can be grown. And each of us, no matter what our station in life is, can become better at it by acquiring certain skills, attributes and attitudes. And when we do that, we expand our universe of influence and we become what people would look and say, “There’s a leader.” And that leadership might be coaching soccer, or little league or boy Scouts, or girl Scouts, a community based organization, or a corporation, a church, a not for profit. It could be exhibited in many different places, but we can grow that capacity for leadership.
Tune in for the full conversation.
Listening time: 24 minutes
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Music: This is RecruitingDaily’s, Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup: Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we have Warren on, and the topic we’re going to be talking about is, why is humility the most important leadership quality? And might seem obvious, but I’m assuming it’s not as obviously as we think, so I can’t wait to hear and learn from Warren. Warren, would you do the audience a favor and introduce both yourself and kind of what you do in the world.
Warren Rustand: Warren Rustand, live in Tucson, Arizona, seven children, 19 grandchildren. We all live together on a common acreage, built homes there for our children. It’s great, so we’re all together. Spent time playing professional basketball with the Golden State Warriors, ended up in the White House as appointment secretary of the president and have served on 52 boards of directors and I’ve been the CEO of six companies. So had an opportunity to look at leadership from a broad perspective and written a book called The Leader Within Us, which defines how to design our life around being the leader in our home, our businesses, our communities, and for ourselves.
William Tincup: What’s beautiful about that is you’re not separating work leadership from personal leadership.
Warren Rustand: Correct. That’s right.
William Tincup: I love that.
Warren Rustand: Life is about integration and it all flows together. And we need to be leaders in all aspects of our lives.
William Tincup: Well, that’s a great message for folks to hear. The common concept, the question that I get from folks as it relates to leadership is, nature versus nurture. And I know that you’ve studied this and you have thoughts on it. When people ask you that question, how do you kind of deconstruct that for them?
Warren Rustand: Well, like you William, I get that question a lot. And I do believe we come with a certain genetic package. We come with a certain DNA and there are attributes to that. However, leadership is an acquired skillset. Leadership can be developed. Leadership can be grown. And each of us, no matter what our station in life is, can become better at it by acquiring certain skills, attributes and attitudes. And when we do that, we expand our universe of influence and we become what people would look and say, “There’s a leader.” And that leadership might be coaching soccer, or little league or boy Scouts, or girl Scouts, a community based organization, or a corporation, a church, a not for profit. It could be exhibited in many different places, but we can grow that capacity for leadership.
William Tincup: We won’t deal with the DNA side because we can’t impact that as much. But the growing in the building and the experiences, et cetera, once we move people intellectually over to there and just say, “Listen, there’s all these experiences that you can gather.” Where do you like to start people? When you start them down that path, like, “Okay, listen, you can be a leader and you can choose to be a leader and you can define that in a couple different ways,” how do you get them off the couch and get them into starting down the path of trying leadership?
Warren Rustand: Well, assuming that a person wants to do that, I mean the first is desire. The person is going to get off the couch if they want to change. If they want to be something different than they are. And the first principle of that is clarity of vision, that we need to walk ourselves into our future 1, 3, 5 years down the road, smell, feel, touch what that’s going to be like in our visualization of where we want to be. And then walk ourselves backward to our present state and along the way, create the milestones that we have to hit in order to achieve our vision. So the first is clarity of vision. We have to know where we’re going. And all the great leaders I’ve had a chance to associate with in professional sports and the celebrity world, as well as generals in the military, presidents of the United States and so forth, all of them knew where they were going.
Warren Rustand: They had a clear view of what they were doing. So that clarity of vision is really critical. The second step, the second principle is certainty of intent. Once we decide what we want to become and how we want to lead and where we want to go, we have to intentionally act on that every day. Just having it doesn’t matter much, it’s just a nice vision. And we have to act on that and move toward it every day. We hear story after story of entrepreneurs who are overnight successes only to find out they’ve been working at it for 20 years.
William Tincup: That’s the Hollywood story.
Warren Rustand: That’s exactly right. Yeah. So this notion is that we can intentionally act on our vision each day. We can do something that moves us closer. And then the third piece, the third principle is the power of values. How we live our lives actually matters and it displays for others what’s important to us and how we think about ourselves and others. And that needs to manifest itself in our leadership, that our values actually count. What we think matters in the world, does matter. And therefore our values have to be front and center in everything that we do. We can’t be one person on stage and another person off stage. There’s a consistency of values that we have to have. And you and I both know William, that the people we admire most are the people who are consistent and constant and they always are delivering the same value set. And those are people we like and admire. So I would say those three principles, the clarity of visions, certainty of intent and the power of values, are the three most important principles to start the leadership journey.
William Tincup: I love that. How do you deal with agility or nimbleness or change in any of those three principles? Like if something has to change, something is forced to change, maybe your values have changed, I don’t know, or your vision has changed. In the tech world, they call a pivot. But say your vision has changed, then some of those other things might have a rippling effect. How do you coach people through the agility or how to deal with change?
Warren Rustand: Yeah. That’s a great question because we’re living in the middle of that right now [crosstalk 00: 06: 57]. Because all of our visions did not envision COVID.
William Tincup: I’d like to talk to the girl or the guy that had already envisioned this and have that discussion, but you’re right.
Warren Rustand: That’s right. So these things just happened to us. If we think back to the tech crash in 2000, we think back to the financial collapse, 2008, nine and 10, we think now about the pandemic, which we’re involved in, all of those required us to pivot, alter, change, adapt, adjust in some way. And our ability to do that will oftentimes determine our success going forward. There are some people who are so rigid, so focused that they can’t change. And for many of them, when the crisis comes along, it is very difficult and very hard. For others, it seems as if they don’t miss a beat, “Okay. The crisis hits, boom. I’m going to pivot. I’m going to change. I’m going to alter and I’m going to make it work.” And we’ve seen a lot of that during the pandemic. We’ve seen won a lot of businesses go out of business, but we’ve also seen a lot of businesses that pivoted and actually flourished and during this period of time.
Warren Rustand: And so that’s a great question because the nimbleness, the agility, the adaptability for us as leaders is really critical. I asked my dad once, “Dad, what do I need to succeed in business?” And he said, “You need to be agile, mobile and hostile.”
William Tincup: Oh, that’s a tattoo. That’s awesome. That’s fantastic and absolutely correct. I mean, just couldn’t have been better and very, very distilled information. Because rigidity, obviously, I can see that in some of the leaders that I’ve interacted with, but dare I say that some of it is also that I’ve seen arrogance. Like I have a clarity of vision, and I remember this 20 something years ago with an entrepreneur I worked with, he had clarity envision and would not step off of it. And he wasn’t just rigid, that was definitely a part of it. But another part of it is, he just believed he was right and wouldn’t accept…
Warren Rustand: That’s a great point. Sometimes our ego gets in the way and lead us to call [inaudible 00: 09: 13] a dead end. Because we’re so rigid, we’re so strong in our belief that we’re right, we suppress the ideas from others or the influence of others in that whole process and don’t listen well necessarily. Now, you and I both know throughout history, there have been times when that same rigidity caused someone to be successful.
William Tincup: That’s right.
Warren Rustand: Edison, in developing the light bulb. I mean, he had a thousand failures before he developed a light bulb. And Abraham Lincoln failed in running for public office eight times before he became president of the United States. So there is this doggedness that’s an important quality and attribute, tenacity, persistence. But we have to be careful that our ego doesn’t begin to influence our decision making. And that’s why I talk a lot about humility being the number one quality of great leadership. It’s our ability to see ourselves in an equal way with everyone else.
William Tincup: It’s funny because I’ve had that question from folks and I’ve basically said, “It’s a thin line between arrogance and confidence.”
Warren Rustand: That’s right.
William Tincup: And when you’re confident, you just feel like you’re confident about your vision and about how you’re approaching the problem, et cetera. That’s one thing. But when you transcend and you get to that level where you’re arrogant, then you can miss and often do. And I think that does it, perfectly dovetails into our discussion about humility. Now I’ll ask a similar, but different question around humility, is humility learned?
Warren Rustand: I believe humility is acquired as well. And it’s something we can all practice. We allow our egos to get too involved. We need to stop the world that we live in that’s I, me and my, and we need to create a world of us, we and ours. That’s a very subtle and distinct difference between thinking of ourselves exclusively and thinking of ourselves in a collaborative way. And one of the things that we know is that, when we recruit people to businesses, to our business, for example, when we’re recruiting people, we know that they are attracted to our companies because of our culture, but they leave because of leaders. Leaders who can’t practice humility, leaders who are abusive, leaders who are too strong willed, who aren’t collaborative. And so this whole notion of how we present ourselves in the world, humility is the critical piece because it makes us acceptable to other people, where ego and arrogance rarely does. And so…
William Tincup: Well, and some people that are attracted to that are only attracted to that for a while and then at one point they grow tired of that. What blocks humility for folks? What are some of the things that you’ve seen that just get in the way? Ego is, obviously.
Warren Rustand: Yeah, ego’s part of it. But the notion that we created our success ourselves, and no one helped us along the way, no one was responsible. I look back at my life and I’ve had wonderful success, but I’ll look around the way and there have been key influences in my life from other people who directed me, guided me, helped me, who brought me down. I had a wrestling coach in high school. I wasn’t a wrestler, I was a basketball player, but he was my government teacher. And I had achieved some significance and awards and recognition and so forth in my senior year, and I was acting out my ego. And after a class one day, he pulled me aside and said, “Warren, I need to talk to you.” He said, “You’re a jerk. And you’re acting like a jerk. And if you keep acting like a jerk, you won’t have any friends, put your ego away and learn to serve and love other people. And when you do that, you’re acceptable.” That was just some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten because I was just feeling so full of myself over what I’d accomplished.
Warren Rustand: I couldn’t see the needs of others. I wasn’t helping others. I wasn’t influencing others for good. And so I learned to become a servant leader and in building our companies and doing the things that we do, we find that humility is absolutely the number one quality of leadership.
William Tincup: Well, when you fail, it’s easy to be humble, because life has humbled. Put you in a corner, baby’s been put in a corner. I’m struggling with balancing success and humility. And thinking about the people, celebrities and politicians and sports, that have achieved massive amount of success, how do they remain humble?
Warren Rustand: Now humility’s an internal judgment that one makes about how they want to live their life. Let me give you an example. Growing up, playing basketball, the Boston Celtics were the greatest team in the NBA, they won 11 NBA championships in 13 years. Bill Russell was six time MVP and so forth. I had a chance to go to Bill Russell’s house for dinner one night. And I went to his home and I looked around and it was a beautiful home and lovely guy and we had a great time. And as I was leaving I said, “Bill, there’s not one thing in your house that suggests that you ever played basketball anytime in your life.” And I said, “Bill, I’ve been to homes of athletes where they’ve got entire rooms, they’ve got spotlights and they’ve got everything.” And I said, “And Bill, there’s nothing in your house that reflects the fact that you’re the best basketball player in the world today.”
Warren Rustand: And I said, “Why is that?” He said, “Because I never wanted my children to compete with me.” I thought that was a wonderful statement of humility. A great perspective. Because he was saying that being a father is more important than being a basketball player. And I thought, “What a great statement about a human being.” And he came out to Tucson many times after that to play the Tucson open golf tournament and we spent lots of time together and he was always humble, self deprecating. He would make fun of himself. He would see himself in a totally different light than… You and I could name 100 other professional athletes who spend all of their time promoting themselves, who spend all of their time with their ego out front. And I just find that to be refreshing. I tend to want to be around people who are humble. I just think it’s more interesting, more fun.
William Tincup: Well, I’ve told the story a few times, I’ve been around a couple billionaires, Sam Walden and Ed Bass in particular, spent a lot of time around both men. And I remember in both exchanges, the first time I met him, I called him, Mr. Walton or Mr. Bass and they corrected me. They said, “No, my name’s Sam.” I remember Sam because I picked him up at an airport. So he was really kind of funny because it was just him and I. And he just looked at me and said, “My name’s Sam.” And I’m like, “Man.” And Ed Bass did the exact same thing to me. We were in a group meeting and I said, “Mr. Bass,” he’s like, “My name’s Ed.”
Warren Rustand: Well, Sam getting his little airplane and he’d fly off and visit his store, and he’d just show up at the stores. [crosstalk 00: 16: 14] I mean, he was just a regular guy.
William Tincup: He was a regular guy and it wasn’t a bit. Because I drove that truck. I was in that truck, I picked him up in the airport. I was in those stores and that wasn’t a bit. Like you said, very elegantly, there wasn’t a public Sam Walton and a private Sam Walton.
Warren Rustand: That’s right.
William Tincup: There was just Sam Walton. I mean he was country savvy, no doubt. And so was Ed Bass, very savvy people, but also very humble in their success, which is, I think, at that level, I mean when billionaire, you’ve got money on top of money just to be able to balance it out and not get caught up in your own ego and other people, your surroundings, the people that are around you, getting caught up in your success as well.
Warren Rustand: And not allowing others to treat you in a particular way. People should learn to treat you no matter how successful you are, in a humble way. And sometimes we don’t allow that to happen. We present ourselves in a way that other people are either afraid or concerned or nervous or are they’re set off by how we present ourselves. I think we have to be very careful about that.
Warren Rustand: What we found over the years in leadership is, the greatest way to keep our ego in check is to serve other people. It’s just to help other people. And if we’re having a bad day, let’s go help somebody who’s having a worst day than we’re having. Let’s just go serve people. In 1906 there was a book written called Servant and it was the first real description of servant leadership. And we preach and teach servant leadership to all the people who work with us and all the people I speak to and write books for and so forth. And it’s this notion of humility is an attribute that can be cultivated and developed in the same way that ego can be. And we need to be sure that we are the ones that are leading by humility and not expecting others to do it.
William Tincup: Two questions. One is, my mom and dad tell me stories of Elvis. There was Elvis before his mom passed and then it was Elvis after his mom passed, and a lot of it was because of the people that surrounded him. They were different. There was a lot of people that once his mom passed, they were just yes people. And if Elvis wanted to do [inaudible 00: 18: 46], they’d say, “Yes, sounds fantastic.” There wasn’t any guardrails. Before, when his mother was alive, he had guardrails. And it’s interesting to think about leaders, of having that balance within themselves and be able to put themselves in check and be humble and to be thinking about their own orientation around humility, but also to be surrounded by people that also kind of help them with humility.
Warren Rustand: Yeah. I agree with that. I think it’s really interesting. At one point, Elvis Presley was the largest single tax payer in the United States.
William Tincup: I didn’t know that.
Warren Rustand: He had lots of opportunities to write off taxes differently and cheat on taxes. And do he never did. He just paid the percentage of his income that he needed to pay and he was proud of it. He was proud of it. He was interesting. He’s an interesting study because the latter part of his life, he was a bit out of control for the right reasons that you mentioned. Earlier in his life, he had boundaries. And I think that’s part of humility, is creating boundaries for ourselves within which we’re willing to live and act. And then there are those who don’t have boundaries and there are no non-negotiables. Everything is sort of negotiable to them and everything can be justified and excuses can be made for the [crosstalk 00: 20: 11]
Warren Rustand: … isn’t it? Yeah. And we see that all across our country and maybe more so today in politics than somewhere else. And so this notion is that we need to guard against that in every way possible. We need to do things. And I’ve often said to our children, all of whom, we got four children who are CEOs of their own business, all doing well. And I said to our children, “Sometimes the best decision you can make is what not to buy. It’s not what you can afford. It’s what you choose not to buy, because that’s a statement of you.” I don’t need to show up in a Bugatti to a meeting when I can drive up in a Volkswagen. Both are forms of transportation. They both get me there.
William Tincup: That’s right. And again, if your ego, and there’s probably other ways of thinking about it, but ego gets in there and then says, “No, you have to show up because other people were think…” This is you. This is your humility. And again it’s what you want to create. And again, I think the Elvis example is probably a change in values, one of your principles, there’s guardrails, probably there was an adjustment of values in what he valued and what other people valued out of him. Last question, and it’s probably something that people always listening are just curious about, how do you practice humility? How do you get skilled at it? How do you get better at it? Because if I wanted to get better at public speaking, I got a mechanism or several mechanisms for that. But humility, I’m not sure how I practice that.
Warren Rustand: Yeah. That’s a great question. What I suggest to people every morning when they know they’re awake and their eyes are first open, is to sit on the edge of their bed, swing their legs over the edge of bed, don’t get up. Just it on the edge of the bed and decide what is their purpose for the day. How are they going to show up today? Because in the end, each day builds upon itself for success. And every day we have to be prepared to be our best self. And so setting our mind in a particular way will focus on how we execute that day. And therefore, if I can decide that today, I want to be a humble servant. Today, I want to be the leader of a great management team. Today, I want to do the things that are going to make people better.
Warren Rustand: If I can have those kinds of conversations with myself every morning and set my mind to that, then I have a much better chance of accomplishing humility over the course of the day than if I sit on that same edge of the bed and say, “Man, I hope I make a lot of money today. Man, I’ve got to destroy this guy in the negotiation. Man, I’ve got to be better than somebody else.” I think our mindset determines our humility, and we have to focus our mind.
William Tincup: It’s a great line from Cool Hand Luke, you got to get your mind right.
Warren Rustand: Sure. Exactly right.
William Tincup: But it also gets back to your principles. These are in tandems. So if you swing your legs over the bed, you’re thinking about these things. You’re also thinking about them with the backdrop of the clarity of vision and all three principles, you’re thinking about them with that backdrop.
Warren Rustand: That’s right.
William Tincup: It’s intentional. It’s purposeful.
Warren Rustand: Yes. Humility is intentional just like success is intentional. These don’t happen by mistake or by accident. People sometimes wait their whole life to be successful, just waiting for it to happen to them. Other people set out to be successful, but they work at it every day.
William Tincup: Well, Warren, this has been absolutely fantastic. Thank you so much for a carve out time to educate us and thank you for just a wonderful topic.
Warren Rustand: William, thank you very much for your good questions. And most importantly, thank you for the great podcast that you do. I know people who listen to you and they really believe you’re providing a value and a service to others. And so I’m happy to be a part of it and want to thank you for it.
William Tincup: Cool. Thank you. Thank you again. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast, until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.