Richard Jones on Leading With Humility

January 3, 2019

Richard Jones Highlights

Current job title: Vice President, State Affairs and Government Relations, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America

Previous executive role: Chief Communications Officer, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America

Other leadership positions: Vice President, Communications, The Americas, GE Money; Senior Vice President, Waggener Edstrom

What are the key leadership principles that have guided your career?

Trust, communication and honesty. I’ve always considered these qualities to be foundational if I’m to be effective in influencing and inspiring others to work with me toward achieving a stated goal or objective.

At the top of the list is trust. To me, this means cultivating relationships that are defined by openness, honesty and transparency, relationships that give others confidence that I’m someone they can depend on. It means ensuring that those working with me can always expect to be consistently treated with respect.

Communicating is important, of course, because it’s essential that a leader clearly articulate the vision, purpose or direction for an organization or team. I’ve always found it valuable to also foster an environment in which team dynamics are characterized by openness and candor, a place where colleagues feel confident in not only expressing a point of view but challenging others’ perspectives as well.

I don’t believe a leader can create such an environment unless they first establish a firm foundation built on trust and respect. And one of the most effective ways to demonstrate respect for someone is listening. I consider listening a critically important part of effective interpersonal communications and make it a point to solicit ideas from others and to genuinely listen to their perspectives.

A corporate leader who I admire once said to me that if you want to demonstrate to someone that you respect their contributions and inspire them to contribute even further, ask them what they think about an issue you may be grappling with and listen to what they have to say.

Finally, I believe that a little humility can sometimes be an important quality in a leader.


You started in this business almost 40 years ago. What would you like to tell the Richard Jones of 1979?

Follow your instincts. You’ll come to realize that, in most cases, you made the right decision.


What qualities are necessary for growing in an organization?

The influential people that I’ve observed in any organization all seem to exhibit several qualities:

  • They cultivate a high degree of trustworthiness. They do this by behaving ethically and by being open, honest and direct in interpersonal dealings.
  • They embody the organization’s values. Influential people understand what principles serve as the organization’s North Star, and they exhibit those ideals in their dealings with work and industry colleagues.
  • They’re respectful of others. They cultivate a network of meaningful relationships. These relationships are often with colleagues who may be able to help them learn new aspects of the business.
  • They’re collaborative. Most organizations place a high value on teamwork and collegiality. Influential people understand how to work in an interconnected and cooperative environment.
  • They’re dependable. They do what they say they’re going to do, and they do it when they say they’re going to do it. They make it a point to not just be occasionally dependable but be consistently reliable.
  • They understand the organization. They grasp its mission, its strategy, its growth objectives, its challenges, its competitive environment and, of course, its culture.
  • They invest the time to become an expert in their field. This means they become regarded as the “go-to” person for answers concerning an area of the business or specific subject. At the same time, they understand the importance of being flexible and are always open to taking on new challenges.
Ken Jacobs

Ken Jacobs is principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching. Visit his website ( and contact him by email ( or Twitter (@KensViews).


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