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Humility vs. Timidity

February 13, 2009


This ad got me thinking about the hallowed values of the East vs. the pragatism of the West.

We Asians see humility as a virtue, to be practiced in our dealings with each other. If you think you can’t do that in business, you should check out Haruka Nishimatsu, the president and CEO of Japan Air. This guy heads a $20 billion company but takes the public bus to work, has an office without walls so anyone can walk in, slashes his own salary during these tough times, and joins the long lines at the company cafeteria for lunch.

Humility is the lack of pride, something I find difficult to describe CEOs of failed banks on Wall Street who dress up in thousand dollar suits and fly to Washington in private jets.

Which brings me to the ad above by Cessna, the maker of business aircraft, who stands to lose sales and jobs if these Wall Street bankers cave in to public pressure, ditching their private jets and driving to work in hybrid and therefore lame Ford Escorts.

Called “Fighting Back – The Leadership Campaign“, the message is that “true visionaries will continue to fly.”

Sound familiar? In the schoolyard, if someone gets knocked down by a bully, you call him a wussy and taunt him back into action.

As a grown up, I admit its hard for me to see Haruka Nishimatsu as a timid non-visionary as I would of any leader who dares listen to the voice of the people who saves his butt. On the contrary, I think it takes guts to put others in front of self. Then again, maybe its just me.

But it does pose a larger question in my mind. Is being humble the same as being timid?

What do you think?


I just thought of a counter campaign.

A poster depicting a banker CEO in an expensive suit, clutching an attache case labeled “Big Fat Bonus” set in a background of Wall Street in smoking ruins. And these words in bold, “Greed and stupidity got you this far. Why stop now?”

Or how about this.

“Timidity didn’t get you this far. Humidity did.”


3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2009 9:22 am

    Actually, if i were to start my own biz n hv my own office, I don’t intend to have my own room. Or if I do have my own room, the door will always be opened unless there’s a meeting or something which is P & C. 😀 Because i feel that there’s no point putting yourselves (as bosses) to high up and isolate yourselves from your people. After all, all of you r from the same company n should be like a family.

    But the most important point is………you put urselves too high up…. means you’re putting yourselves at the altar to be sacrificed 😛

    Just my opinion anyway. I don like ego n arrogant bosses.

    Personally, I notice that certain types of business tend to adopt certain styles. The service industry tends to attract a bureaucratic style of management where its managers like to hole up in rooms and staff watch their job boundaries like a hawk. The creative industry, like design houses, tend to go for an open concept, an office without walls. Funny thing is, both require leadership and teamwork but each take a very different approach to it.

  2. LC Teh permalink
    February 13, 2009 5:52 pm

    In primary school we learned a lot about how ‘pride goes before a fall’. So we learned to be humble (Lord, you know how hard that is…) But being humble is a lot better than being ‘actsy’ because they can’t tell what you’re up to when you speak nicely and tread softly. And when you’re riled up enough to hit back they’ll learn to respect you. But when you act big, you better have something to back you up.

    As for timidity, sorry, get over it or you’re not going anywhere. Esp if you’re out on the beach and sweating and afraid to strip down to your new teeny weeny swimsuit. But that’s humidity… hahaha

    Animals like peacocks, blowfish and gorillas, when trying to assert themselves, will do their thing to look bigger than they really are. And it works. On other animals whose brains are no bigger than a pea.

    Thinking humans will do the thing you mentioned. Walk softly but carry a big stick.

    How people take to fluff and pomp kinda tells you a lot about where they are on a scale doesn’t it. Gad, reminds me of the car I saw on the highway the other day, an old Mercedes from the 80’s that was nipped and tucked to look like a 2008 model, and it looked like a complete disaster on wheels. LOL. 🙂

  3. February 14, 2009 1:45 pm

    I think it depends on the type of people leading the company. If the person came from a “consulting-like” environment, then he or she will tend to think that is the best way. Jst like what you mentioned before, family n work backgrounds are very important. These 2 will decide how a person behaves.

    Yeah. I just thought it was juvenile the way Cessna is trying to taunt its customers (Wall St CEOs) into giving the middle finger to the people they’re begging bailout money from. Maybe all these people haven’t really left high school.

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