Powerfull Humility

Freshly baked I opened the 18th Annual Global CEO Survey by PwC for 2015 and was greatly surprised and cheered. Something has really turned upside down in the leadership world. In the final statement titled “The CEO agenda. What’s needed to compete in today’s economy?“ I found the following piece that I hope will be recognized by all leaders and will frame a new leadership culture:

“Above all though, perhaps the quality CEOs most need to master is humility. By being humble while leading, a CEO will be able to listen and learn from the team they have built around them; they’ll be able to take maximum advantage of the diversity they are cultivating and they’ll be receptive to the insights they gain from new collaborations. Most important, this humility will give CEOs the confidence to pass on what they have learnt to the next generation.

The Harvard Business Review May 2014 also noted humility as one of the most effective leadership qualities. In a survey of more than 1500 workers from different countries it found that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees feel included. In such environments employees reported being more innovative, suggesting new product ideas and ways of doing work better.

Jim Collins, in 2001 in “From Good to Great”, was the first to bring Humility as a powerful leadership quality to high-level discussions and articles. Collins defined the leader with capability to move a company from good to great as a ‘Level 5 leader’, that is “an executive in whom genuine personal humility blends with intense professional will“. Collins does not negate leadership ego, but reveals limitations of it if companies want to attain long lasting growth: “the great irony is that personal ambition that often drives people to become a Level 4 leader stands at odds with the humility required to rise to Level 5.“
Jim Collins in HBR article  “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve“ elegantly lists the behaviours of the leader embodying qualities of Humility and Will.

Personal Humility

  • Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful.
  • Acts with quiet, calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.
  • Channels ambition into the company, not the self; sets up successors for even more greatness in the next generation.
  • Looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck.

Professional Will

  • Creates superb results, a clear catalyst in the transition from good to great.
  • Demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult.
  • Sets the standard of building an enduring great company; will settle for nothing less.
  • Looks out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company—to other people, external factors, and good luck.

The Paradox of “humble leadership”

Looking at the term “humble leadership” can create a sense of confusion. When we hear the term “leader,” we tend to imagine a strong, confident, problem solver, expert, charismatic personality, taking responsibility for his or her followers “someone who goes in and carries out all the injured soldiers from a battlefield.“ Whilst when we hear the term “humility“ this brings an opposite picture of a person that acts from the backstage, that lets others go first, questions and asks for support. The Forbes article: “The Paradox Of Humility In American Business And Society” describes the combination of humility and leadership as a paradox of contradictory qualities and hence provides a balancing solution: “How to share your best with the world while sublimating your ego to advance the organization? Can you both stand out and sit back?”

The best leaders prove that you can, and it’s a lesson that business students and other leaders should learn if they hope to achieve success. Management expert, Ken Blanchard says: “People with humility do not think less of themselves; they just think about themselves less.”

Important in terms of leadership development is the direct connection between personal qualities, personal action logic and business results. Often during negotiation workshops I face discussions where participating leaders separate ethical from business KPIs, arguing that fierce competition and business environment requires adequate response, therefore humility can be cultivated in private life, but there is no space for it in business world. The PwC CEO report, mirroring that most actual business trends and challenges, places humility as a power capacity to deal with them. Humility is more than a personal state or mood it represents the social and emotional intelligence of the leader and the ability to think and act in the sustainable way and with a long lasting perspective.

Is it possible to learn humility?

Is it possible to learn humility? Jim Collins says Yes and No: “There are two categories of people: those who don’t have the Level 5 seed within them and those who do.” Amara co-founder Professor Bill Torbert developed a framework for personal leadership development, named the Global Leadership Profile (GLP) that defined stages of different action logics, representing successive leadership maturity stages. Torbert has conducted global research over the past 40 years which involved tens of thousands adults and discovered, that leaders at later developmental (maturity) stages have a more positive effect on people and the ecology within organizations. Such leaders are less egocentric and egoistic, they are more modest and work for benefit of others, develop engaging working environments and support individual growth, when implementing changes they promote systemic, sustainable and inclusive solutions. You may find out more in HBR article “Seven Transformations of Leadership”.

At the heart of our work in Amara we recognize that our actions and visions are part of the emerging movement – the grand shift in the leadership world. At Amara we aim to develop capacities and qualities of mature leadership such as, agility and flexibility of thinking, ability to involve multiple perspectives, action Inquiry, systemic thinking, ability to communicate and collaborate, courageousness and the ability to transform conflict into opportunity. We are certain that such capacities will help leaders to prepare for the emerging reality where markets, technologies and legislative environment is rapidly and radically reshaping, where unrevealed growth opportunities lie within a hidden abyss, where individuals feel more free to decide and to choose for themselves, were employees want to be treated with dignity and enjoy more meaningful work. More about our upcoming workshop.

And finally…

I am quite small – 1 meter 58 centimeters, thus I was always at the tail of the row. When I entered a world of big men, big politics and big money my smallness and shyness turned to be the power. People gave me trust in advance that was a lot. I was called to mediate conflicts, as no one was aggressive with me. People wanted to support me and they leaned toward me and the biggest win was that they listened, they listened carefully with attention and here magic happened – they started to hear their inner voice, the words of their own wisdom. This moved them to think and to respect themselves and to go beyond fear, beyond ignorance, beyond conformity, beyond attitudes and beyond themselves.

Humility loves quiet. Shhhh…..