Humility – A prerequisite leadership trait

Did you ever grab some puzzle pieces that you don’t really expect to fit, and by spinning one they all fall together? This just happened to me with a leadership characteristic that I think should receive more air time – Humility.

What puzzle pieces created this image for me?

  • A recent book, “Judgment Calls”
    • Thomas Davenport and Brook Manville use 12 case studies as examples of business leaders ensuring their organizations make the right decisions in very complex problematic situations through establishing cultures where people have the freedom to raise and explore issues and collaboratively make critical judgments. The author’s summarize their premise as: “Good organizational judgment is often created by leaders–not as great “deciders” themselves, but as more egoless developers of the right context and structures to allow their organizations to find solutions more collectively.”
  • A book not quite as new, The Third Alternative
    • To create “synergy” and find a different and decidedly better solution than the two alternatives of “your way” or “my way,” Steven Covey talks about how people must act without hubris (defined as excessive pride or self-confidence) as it presents a major barrier to the learning and creativity that emerges as stakeholders work collaboratively.
  • A highly viewed TED video
    • Tim Harford’s message was clear – If leaders, “in the face of an incredibly complicated world, are nevertheless absolutely convinced that they understand the way that the world works,” they won’t solve the complexity we face.

With these pieces in my head, I looked at a new presentation some friends developed about our Structured Democratic Dialogue (SDD) process. One of the points the presentation makes several times is that the SDD process requires, and in a way forces, “humility.” How? As ideas emerge and their meanings are clarified in a truly participatory process, everyone learns something.

What’s the evidence that people learn? Simple. The best thoughts people bring with them into the process are not the ones they believe are the best when they leave. Research proved this. If one person could walk in with all the best ideas, you wouldn’t need a democratic, strategic problem-solving process anyway. Right?

Besides, even without the research, we all know we learn something whenever wisdom of the people is actually tapped.

The path forward emerges as we learn from others. To learn, humility is a prerequisite. That’s how the pieces fit for me. What role does humility play in leadership in your experience?

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