The Fight Club Guide to Leadership Humility

I bet when someone asks you to name great leaders you think of Churchill, Sun Tzu, Jack Welch, Lincoln or others. Well listen up people because you’re missing someone. His name is…Tyler Durdin. Yes, Tyler Durdin. He is the main character in the movie Fight Club (Rated R) played by Brad Pitt.

In Fight Club, everyone loves Tyler Durdin. The girls want to be with him and men want to be like him. He’s smart, confident, passionate, holds true to his convictions and has an innovative way to change the world: Help people beat each other up so they can experience freedom from the entrapments of life. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that leaders engage in violence. However, metaphorically, there is a lot we can learn from Mr. Durdin.

In the movie, what started out as a fight in a parking lot turned into regular fights on Saturday nights which turned into fight clubs being cloned all over the country. Tyler’s fight clubs grew. But what’s interesting is that he never recruited anyone to join. In fact, he did the opposite. He told people not to talk about Fight Club. (The first rule of Fight Club.)

Imagine for a moment, being a leader of an organization that doesn’t have to recruit anyone because people are standing in line in the cold and rain to be a part of your vision.

So how did Tyler do it?

Humility – An Essential Leadership Trait

Tyler says this: “You’re not your job. You’re not the amount of money you make. You’re not the car you drive. Nor the contents of your wallet. Not your f-ing khakis. You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”

Does that sound a bit radical? Good. Leaders need to be less radical about their positions and more radical about their humanity.

I saw a great example of leadership humility two weeks ago. Enter Graham Weston. In case you don’t know who he is, Weston invested in Rackspace during its early stages, became the CEO and is now the Chairman of the Board. He is also the CEO of Weston Properties and owns 700,000 square feet of industrial and office properties in Texas. Successful? Oh yes.

Graham was one of the speakers at TEDx San Antonio; it was there that I met him. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve met people with less power and position who made others feel like the dead ant in the mud under their feet.  So truthfully, I was prepared for the worst. Yet here was Graham, interacting with everyone. More than a few attendees shared their surprise at how approachable and sincere he was. At one point, he said hello to one of his Rackspace employees. This employee was not a VP or even in management. He was a techie.

Graham not only knew who he was, he knew this employee had been working the 3rd shift. He spent several minutes talking with the employee on a personal and professional level.  They were equals. This employee knew it. I could see it. And I was moved.

Does humble leadership work? Take a look at Rackspace’s growth and profitability. Need another example? Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ come to my mind. They were both incredibly humble, servant-focused men. One delivered his nation and the other delivered the world.

If you want to radically change your organization, take French politician Charles de Montesquieu’s advice: “To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”

Or as Tyler Durdin says, remember that “You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else.”

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