After a long and storied career as a U.S. State Department Foreign Service Officer and business consultant, Fisher Howe understands the inner workings of. In World War II, Howe served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), America's first Central Intelligence Agency.
Howe, 94, was special assistant to OSS founder General William Donovan. He also worked for two Secretaries of State: Dean Acheson and John Foster Dulles.
As a result of advising so many high-powered personalities, Howe has come away with a heightened appreciation of what constitutes leadership.
He tells us that the best leaders keep their perspective. No matter how much authority they exert over others, they don't let it go to their head.
"People who are pompous rarely make good leaders," says Howe, who lives in Washington, D.C. He adds that Acheson maintained his sense of humor even in tense times and that he "loved a good joke."
As long as you don't take yourself too seriously, you can set high standards and demand exceptional effort while still earning the respect and loyalty of your peers and employees. Poking fun at yourself occasionally can have a surprisingly strong effect on others.
Another sign of pomposity is lecturing. Even if you're an expert on a topic, dangle enticing facts and allow employees to grapple with the subject on their own. That's better than showing off your vast knowledge—and alienating the people you seek to win over.