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Melissa Shanahan

#250: True Humility: Taking Credit Where It’s Due with Tara Gronhovd

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How often do you reply to a compliment with a simple thank you? Are you prone to brushing off your contributions or wins in the name of humility? What does it look like to show up with a false sense of humility? And what are the dangers of not taking credit where it’s due?

Tara Gronhovd is back on The Law Firm Owner Podcast this week! Tara is the CEO and founder of Align where she provides leadership coaching and development aimed at growing healthy leadership and improving team dynamics. She’s here today to walk you through her definition of true humility, and how it’s key to the success you’re currently seeking.

Join Melissa and Tara on this episode as they dive into the meaning of true humility and the importance of owning what you do well. They’re exploring how the way most people portray humility seems harmless but has dangerous repercussions, why most leaders are uncomfortable owning their strengths, and how you can exponentially grow your strengths once you’re aware of them. 

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats when enrollment opens again!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• What happens when you can’t recognize or accept compliments. 

• The power of understanding what you do well and why.

• Why most people tend to be uncomfortable owning and celebrating their strengths.

• How to evaluate your fear of taking credit where it’s due.

• The importance of taking responsibility for both the bad and the good.

• What true humility entails.

• How you might be sabotaging your growth by being humble.

• The difference between managing people’s perceptions and forging real connections.

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Tara Gronhovd: LinkedIn

Align: Website | Podcast | Grounded Leadership

Brené Brown

C.S. Lewis

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #250.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast, powered by Velocity Work, for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going, take planning seriously, and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Alright, everybody, welcome to this week's episode. I'm so excited to have Tara Gronhovd here. This is not your first rodeo on The Law Firm Owner Podcast so welcome back.

Tara Gronhovd: Thanks. I am thrilled to be here and excited about what we're going to talk about today.

Melissa Shanahan: Yeah, me too. And for the record, you are the guest we've had on the most amount of times, by far. So if you're listening, I promise you're in for a treat. Because that's why Tara’s back so often, or has been so many times, is because we always dig in on a topic that's going to be useful for you as a law firm owner. So, thanks for coming back.

Do you want to tell everybody just a quick, in case this is their first time listening to you, who you are and what you do?

Tara: Yeah, Tara Gronhovd. I own a company called ALIGN. We work with leaders and teams to make sure that they are healthier, working more productively and profitably. Primarily around growing healthy leadership, and improving team dynamics.

We have a program called Grounded Leadership, which you and one of your team members are in right now. And that is specifically to help leaders grow emotional maturity, which has a 90% correlation to profitability and productivity on teams. When the leader is emotionally mature their team thrives.

Melissa: Yes. It's been fantastic. I love the program. I've been working with you for a year and a half, at least. Now doing this program, and it's just great. I really enjoy it. So for anyone listening, if you are interested in becoming a more well-rounded leader, a more emotionally mature leader… and wherever you are, even if you think you're emotionally mature, I'm telling you there's work to be done that will result in a really great way inside of your business. So, I'll just leave it at that.

Tara: It’s funny, I’m laughing because we have someone in the program who only joined because they wanted to check it out, not because they felt like they needed it. And two months into the program they're like, “Well, actually, I guess maybe I have some work to do.”

Melissa: That's amazing. Oh, my gosh. We’ll leave a link in the show notes for anybody who's interested. The next cohort is starting in June. So, if you're interested look into it. Okay, so I heard you, on one of those calls, talk about the topic of humility. And maybe just for context, what was that module on?

Tara: The first couple of months, the whole concept we have is we are a leader or aren't a leader. It's not like you are or aren't a leader, it's that we have a leadership practice. And when we're intentional about our practice we can grow our maturity. So the first module, our first concept, is awareness. So, growing our self-awareness. So, this is within that module.

Melissa: Okay, great. I thought of my clients and of law firm owners I get to talk to when you said this. I also thought of myself, but I was thinking it might be helpful on this podcast to have you come on and talk about it. For everyone to listen to you and maybe give a reframe for people. There are a couple of things I see.

One example is, that when I'm working with someone, and they do the work and they get results… so they grow in the ways that they want it to grow. So, that may mean that they've increased the revenue… almost all of the time it means they've increased their revenue… But it may mean that they've increased their profit margin. There are all these things that will start to happen. They start to develop a team that's more supportive and in line.

And if you hear someone give them a compliment, or say, “Wow, how did you do that?” It's almost like they brush it off. They don't take credit for the work they did to enable that result.

The only reason I think this is worth talking about… Because it almost seems harmless. Like, “Well, okay, that's just…”

Tara: It’s not harmless, though.

Melissa: Right. Okay, explain why it's not harmless.

Tara: So it's not harmless for a couple of reasons. I think part of what you're describing, and this is what you and I have been talking about before we started to hit record, is there's kind of this false sense of humility. And I say “false” because we have this belief that we shouldn't take too much credit. We can't really acknowledge our own contribution.

We don't want to look like we're bragging. We don't want to look like… It's more about managing other people's perceptions of us than about being authentic, and it does more damage than we think. We think it's harmless. We think that, “Oh, well, if I just brush this off, either A, they then won't be tempted to compare me or judge me.” Sometimes that's coming from a fear of judgment. Or, “I can get the spotlight off me, because this is uncomfortable,” for some reason.

But it's dangerous for a couple of reasons. One, when we brush off a compliment, whoever gave us that compliment just got brushed off as well. So, if someone tells you, “Wow, that's really impressive, good job,” and we brush it off, what we're really communicating to them is ‘what you value isn't important to me.’

And so, we lose an opportunity for connection and for valuing the presence of someone else, right? It's almost disrespectful, but we don't look at it that way because we're too busy trying to manage people's perceptions.

The other thing that it does, and people don't think about this, but by not accepting a compliment well, or accepting progress well, we also lose the opportunity to learn more. So, someone tells you, “Wow, that was really impressive. Thank you, you really made an impact in this way,” and you brush it off. Instead, you could be curious and learn more. Like, “What about that was important to you? What specifically did I do?”

Because maybe you truly don't know, but you have an opportunity to be curious so that you can repeat it. So that you know this person, or these people in particular, value this. And that's valuable information in terms of how I'm leading them, helping them to feel valued. But also, I have an opportunity then to learn.

So, that's the third reason. We have an opportunity to learn as much from the things we do well as from the things that we don't do well. So yes, we can look for the things we're doing wrong. We tend to look for the 10% of the gap that there's going to be and want to try and shoot for perfection, instead of saying, “What can I learn from what's going well, right now? What can I learn from the contribution I just made over the last quarter? And how do I invest in that?”

Where we are contributing our best is coming from an area of strength, and we can actually exponentially grow our strengths. So, the more we understand about where they're being helpful, the more we can grow that strength.

Melissa: Yeah, that makes so much sense. Okay, and why is all this important to the end game, to the results that they are creating? I don't have the language that you have to speak to this. But there is some connection between owning the results that you are part of creating.

Which either some people tell you how great the results were that you created. Or sometimes, it's like we were talking about before the recording started, you made a key hire and they're great. Things are working out inside of the firm, with the relationship between you and them and the work that they're producing.

And you'll hear someone say, “Wow, good job,” because they know it takes work to do that. And the person who made the hire will say something like, “I just got lucky. They're just amazing.” And it sounds polite, or something, but it's not taking credit for what you put in. If you were a shitty boss, that's not going to work well for the person who's coming in. So, you do contribute.

Tara: Well, what I find interesting about that example in particular, is that I'm guessing when you, with that example, with a law firm owner who made a great hire and maybe is brushing off the fact that they contributed to that, you're probably giving him that accolade in a place where there aren't necessarily a lot of other people around to hear it.

But we sometimes are so uncomfortable with accepting the fact that we did something well. There's a concept called “foreboding joy” from Brené  Brown. Where there's kind of this core belief or underlying fear that if I say or do the wrong thing, the other shoe is going to drop.

I mean, there is a thing about wanting to not take credit where credit's not due. But you do have a contribution to make as a leader and as a law firm owner. You are making a contribution. You are an important part of making the decisions around hiring and onboarding and making a system that works.

So, just because you hired a great person, just because that person is great, doesn't mean you weren't involved in hiring them. You weren't involved in making sure that there's a culture they want to stay in. High performers don't tend to stay in cultures that aren't working. So again, I think the danger is we don't then understand why it's working well, if we can't accept the fact that we contributed to it.

Melissa: Yeah, it's accepting the fact that you contributed to it. So, we talked a lot about taking 100% responsibility for all of it; not just the bad, not just the good, all of it. It’s like we just don't take responsibility for the good, but people will beat themselves up and take full responsibility for the bad. That's not true, some people skirt that when it happens.

Tara: We're talking specifically to people who will take ownership of all the bad, but really struggle, really struggle, to take ownership of the good.

Melissa: Yes. I think it feels so lopsided to me. The reason I wanted to talk about this is because I think that developing ourselves in this way, developing ourselves to own it, own the results you get, whether they were, “positive” or “negative”, or what you wanted, or what you didn't want, own it.

If you own both ends of it that is when you learn the most about yourself. It does let you really light up and shine in the ways, use your strengths in ways that you can, just like you said, exponentially grow your strengths.

But if you don't recognize them, if you don't really own that, you're kind of capping yourself, or cutting yourself off from the exponential growth that could be associated with that strength. It doesn't mean that you think that it's all because of you that you get these results.

Tara: Yeah, I mean, you can still give credit to other people who are involved, and you're part of the team.

Melissa: And you're a part of the team. And you would get some credit, too. I think people are really uncomfortable with that.

Tara: There are a couple of other things that occurred to me. One is, it's isolating to be a business owner, a law firm owner. It's isolating to be a leader. So, I find people… You and I sometimes have similar roles, in that we play the role of confidant/guide with people… So, even one on one, I find sometimes people have a hard time; it's just me. So, they won't allow themselves to take credit for it, there is a fear.

It's not just managing other people's perception, there's a fear that if I take credit for something… What? What is that fear that's underneath it? But if we can't celebrate some of our wins, and just appreciate the fact that I worked hard and it's paying off, our buckets aren't going to get filled. We need to be able to acknowledge our own contribution and celebrate it to build our own resiliency too, because it's isolating otherwise.

Melissa: And it's very much so. Yeah, very much. I want to help people sink their teeth into this concept, and evaluate for themselves how maybe they might be doing this. And maybe part of this is I'm not making the point strongly enough with success. On the low end of the spectrum with this, or the end you don't want to be on, but I'm just using this extreme language so that we can help to start shape as to why I want to have this conversation.

Meek people aren't successful. When I sense that someone is being meek, or not just owning the bad and the good and taking that ownership, I kind of just know that they're going to maybe have some incremental improvement, and that's about it until they work on themselves. And until they do the work, whatever it is that causes them to be meek… Which I think they, in many instances, view as humble… especially with words out there… Isn't there a book called Humble Leadership or something?

Tara” Yeah, probably.

Melissa: I'm sure that that book had a good point, but I think people take that...

Tara: Well, what's ironic, is that the people who need to read Humble Leadership are the narcissistic leaders who will take all the credit. “I did it all by myself,” with a team dying behind them. So, that's the hard part about some of these messages out into the world is like, “Is that for me or is that for someone else?”

So, let me give you the definition of humility. There are a couple of quotes I love on humility that maybe illustrate this point. C. S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors, and he says humility is being “…so free from any bias in our own favor that we can rejoice equally in our own talents as frankly and as gratefully as in our neighbor's talents — or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.”

Looking at our talents as gifts and being marveled at what we can do is humility. It's not saying because it comes intrinsically to us. I think that's the other thing, sometimes when things come really naturally to us we don't see them as talents. We don't see them as contributions. We just see them as, ‘well, that's just what you're supposed to do. That's just what you do.’ It doesn't mean that it's not important.

I think sometimes we think about humility, and we think that that's having a low view of ourselves, or not putting ourselves too high, not getting too big for our britches. But true humility is fully embracing our shortcomings and fully embracing our strengths and what we're good at.

Melissa: So, would you say true humility then could be almost an observation of it all? And, in awe of it?

Tara: Yeah. “Look at what I did.”

Melissa: Yeah. In awe of the strengths that you have, or the hard things that you did, as well as the person next to you. It's not downplaying you and building someone else up. It's just in awe of all of it.

Tara: When I go into coaching, I frequently ask my coaching clients, “What's working well, right now?” And people are like, “Well, I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about these problems that we're having.” I'm like, “First of all, we should celebrate if there are things going well.”

Or if people are like, “Oh, well, this finally happened,” and it's something they've been struggling with for a year, I'm like, “Oh, let's celebrate that. You worked on that for a year? It didn't turn around in a day. It felt like it turned around a day, but that's because you've been focused on it for a year. Can we just pause?”

And then, “What did you do? Let's talk about what you did in the last year that contributed to that.” They’re like, “Oh, I guess I did do this. Oh, I guess I did focus on that. I guess I did invest in this way.” “Okay, what can we learn from that and apply it to this other place you're feeling stuck?” Okay, that was helpful, right?

We can learn a lot from what we're doing well, but we don't tend to pause long enough to think about our own contribution to it, because we're just grinding. We're just getting everything done. And so, we don't frequently step back and say, “Where have I made progress? And what has been my contribution to that?”

Do we think it's all luck? Because I’ve got to tell you most businesses fail. It's not luck if you're doing well.

Melissa: Oh, exactly.

Tara: It is not luck.

Melissa: Exactly. I love that you said… Something I feel like we should talk about is managing perceptions. Which I think lawyers are really good at, and use that. It's a tool that they have and that they use a lot. And so, this is just another area where they use it. But it feels altruistic, or… What's the word? I don't exactly know the word.

Tara: It’s strategic.

Melissa: It feels strategic. Yeah, it's just managing perceptions. And so, can we talk about what is the risk, and is it real? If they do actually live out the definition of humility, which is to witness all of it and delight in all of it, just as much for themselves just as they would for the person next to them, what's the risk in doing that?

I think people think that they're going to give off a high and mighty vibe, or they're just so proud, a little too prideful or self-congratulatory. Why is that not true? How does that fall down? Can you talk to that to talk about that?

Tara: Yeah, there's a specific resource I'm thinking of that I wish I had at my fingertips, but I don't. But there is this belief that if I talk about what's going well and it turns around, I look like a liar. Or I look like I wasn't as good as I said.

Melissa: Like impostor syndrome?

Tara  This isn’t imposter syndrome. There is a bit of impostor syndrome as a part of that, absolutely. But I think it's more preloading the fear of judgment. So, if I talk about this and then it doesn't go well in the future… Like, ‘this hire is going well,’ and I say, “Yeah, I did these things,” and then the hire leaves, somehow that makes me… It proves that I'm not as good as I thought I was, or I lied; none of which is true.

It was going well. Some circumstances changed. We don't get to control what everyone else does. I don't see business owners celebrating where they are very often. They're always worried about what the future holds. And so, they don't pause to think about what's actually working right now.

Melissa: Which, ironically, can sabotage the good that's happening, because they aren’t stopping, they're not pausing. That kind of wears on people around you, if you don't stop and pause. It wears on you, but you could probably… We do that to ourselves a lot.

I think the people who are listening to this, you just keep grinding, just like you said. Which is not healthy and not good, and you will hit a wall. You can't play that game forever. But, with the hire example, if there was a point where it really was going well, and if you don't stop to acknowledge that this is going really well and celebrate that, if you were to stop and acknowledge and celebrate that, you would foster connection, you would foster celebration, you would foster good stuff in the dynamic there.

And if you don't do that, because you're afraid that you might be wrong, and so  not even acknowledge it, kind of in the back of my head and fingers crossed, “I hope this holds. I hope this stays.”

Tara: I mean, everything we're talking about is a defensive mechanism; self-protection. It's all self-protection. So, if I don't take credit for this, if I brush this off, if I'm careful and cautious about this, then I don't have to deal with being wrong in the future. Some of us have a really strong selfprotective instinct around being right, around not looking stupid.

And the thing is, you don't look stupid. I mean, in any business crazy shit happens all the time. But we judge ourselves, and we're trying to prevent other people from judging us. And really, that all comes down to being worried about what other people are going to think.

When you're talking about managing perceptions, when we're taught to manage perceptions instead of forging real connections, we learn to gauge what other people want in order to gain their approval. And instead of feeling connected, you can become plagued with this chronic sense of loneliness, being an outsider.

Because we don't feel like we get to be the real us. We have to be someone else for each audience we're in front of. So yeah, you were saying earlier, I'm sure lawyers are really good at showing up as who they need to be in front of different people, but there's a difference between adapting to the needs of the person in front of us, and manipulating how they see us by trying to be someone we're not.

Melissa: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I know for sure; I have a lot more work to do, development to do here with this. I don't think I'm done or I'm at this peak of something, but I used to live this way. Every person I talked to my tone of voice would change, depending on who I was talking to. And I remember my friend from growing up would call me out. “Why does your pitch go up whenever you're talking to a stranger that you don't know? Why do you sound like a different person?” And I realized, I know I'm doing it to manage perceptions. And now it's very different. I feel like that's just part of getting older, you naturally…

Tara: More comfortable in your own skin.

Melissa: Yeah, exactly. But now, it's almost an attitude or behavior that I recognize. And listen, I can spot it because I've got it, right? I haven't fixed anything here; I just am on this journey too. Developing ourselves... I really believe this at its core, and that's why I wanted to have this talk…

Developing ourselves in this way, to become even more comfortable in our own skin, which I think lines up with the definition of humility that you gave prior, is a key to success in however you define success. Like, fulfillment, business growth, a great team, all of that and more is very much tied to how you operate.

Tara: And recognizing, I mean, truly recognizing what other people think of you is none of your business.

Melissa: Right. I love that sentence. What other people think of you is none of your business.

Tara: Yeah, it's none of your business what they think of you. I mean, they can choose to share it with you. But we operate a lot out of fear about what other people might think of us. That is what keeps us feeling like we're a balloon getting battered around in the wind. Because people are fickle, and they aren't thinking about us nearly as much as we think they are.

And who cares if they are gossiping about you, whatever, does it really impact you? Does it really impact you at the end of the day? Unless you've had an integrity breach that you truly need to worry about, no. It doesn't really impact you.

But we are so scared of it because we are getting our identity from other people instead of being internally secure. Really, truly, human beings operate in two modes only: They are either in fear or insecurity. And that's it. They are operating within a sense of security or within a sense of fear.

I recently, in my personal life in the last month, some stuff happened and realize that I had a whole snakes nest of fear in an area of my life that I didn't even realize was operating in the background. As I dug into it, it was ugly. It lead me wanting to control things that are not mine to control. When I get afraid I tend to want to control, and I kind of power over or take over in certain areas; Really not good for marriages. Really not good for relationships.

Fear usually does not bring out the best in us. I just recognized in myself recently, so I'm doing some work. I mean that's the thing, we never arrive. Usually there's another layer to uncover and work through. I'm working I'm on trust. That's trusting myself, trusting some key people in my life, as well as, for me, trusting God. But I am working on trust to help me work through some of this fear, so that I can move back into a place with a sense of security.

Because that fear is impacting relationships. It's impacting my kids. It's impacting outcomes in my life that are unintended, because it was all happening unconsciously. I didn't even realize it was happening until some stuff blew up.

So, recognizing where fear is driving is a powerful tool for leaders. This is one place where fear starts to drive. Ironically, when we get a compliment of all things. When we need to take credit for something that's going well. Fear starts to drive there. Why? Because we have told ourselves some really interesting stories about what it means to make progress.

Melissa: Yeah, I guess the point of this podcast, the takeaways as we start to close up, is really awareness, probably first and foremost, about where this might be happening. Just to what you were saying just a little bit ago. And also having awareness around when you deflect, or when you won't take credit for something you had a hand in. And what is that? Why? Why not take credit?

To your point, it's not like the narcissist…The team pushes really hard and there's a leader involved. And then they get to the certain point, and the leader will say, “Look at what I did,” and there's a team behind them. I think that's how you describe it, there's a team behind them that's dying. That's not what we're talking about.

But just owning the results that you get that are positive, as well as the stuff that isn't going so well. And how that rounds you out as a person and prepares you to get more of what you want and build on it.

Tara: So, if you're listening, I'm going to give you a little bit of homework. Just practicing “Thank you.” That's it. Someone says something like, “Wow, that's impressive. Good job. Thank you, I appreciate this.” Just say, “Thank you.” Just say, “Thank you.” Maybe you can't fully own it, but just practicing, “Thank you.” You don’t have to say anything else.

Melissa: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Well, this has been good. I hope listeners get something, a nugget, out of…

Tara: I hope people went along our little journey.

Melissa: I know, this is a little more organically…

Tara: Exploratory.

Melissa: Yes. But it feels like an important conversation. When people are… What do they say? The best form of self-development that you'll ever get is to own a business. I mean, it'll bring up all your stuff. And this is one of the things that will come up. And if you can notice it and examine it.

It kind of goes back to what I said, meek people… I've worked with enough people to know, if you’re meek there's going to be a cap to how far you'll get, in terms of the success that you're looking for. Just own it. The more you can own all of it, the good too, and have the correct definition of humility, and realizing that humble doesn't mean, brushing off all of the things that you did great. It's quite the opposite, it's agreeing.

Tara: If I can add one more insight about this here, I know that this is kind of wrapping up. But I want to add one more insight. When you're growing, if you can really pause and recognize where your highest best use of time is. Meaning, your best contribution, which requires you to talk about what you're good at and where you really shine. As you grow, you are more likely to then hire people to take the things that you're not as good at, and to stay out of those lanes.

Because we as leaders will just cause absolute chaos by suddenly hopping into other people's lanes and trying to do other things. Because we don't believe we're good at the thing we're supposed to be doing. And it feels better to just jump in and do that thing.

Melissa: Yeah, definitely. Man, thank you for coming on again.

Tara: Yeah, absolutely.

Melissa: Yeah, if anybody is interested in Grounded Leadership, the program, another cohort, opens in June. Go to the URL in the show notes. And yeah, it's a great program. I really enjoy being in it. I think it’s less nebulous, as this conversation was, you do such a good job of…

Tara: This conversation was based on one slide in a two-hour conversation. So, we were kind of digging in on one thing here. So, it's a little broader. But to your point, what I find is everyone kind of finds the thing that is resonating with them, and then has opportunity to dig deeper.

Melissa: Yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you. Thank you. Talk to you next time.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/Friday Wrap. If you go to, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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