A Humble Leader

Praying“Belief is essential, and it grows out of a communal experience.”

Charles Duhigg, “The Power of Habit”

What ostensibly passes for leadership in many cases isn’t leadership at all. It’s a title, a pay grade and a highly skilled technician who gets things done but not in the most inspiring way. That’s why so much is devoted to the art and science of leadership education: identifying leadership traits, learning the requisite skills, getting coached to overcome one’s shortcomings. This works, to a point.

Part of the disconnect between expectation and truth lies in the term itself. “Leadership” is used to describe a far too broad classification of organizational managers. Sure, the best managers, regardless of role, lead.  Yet the ones who forget they are Leaders are the ones I have come to respect most sincerely.

Like the leader I knew who faced a very hard business picture. Basically, revenues dropped due to a product recall, other revenue streams were weak, costs needed to come down and jobs had to be cut. He looked at this picture and the response in terms of people’s lives and in terms of unmet potential. He was a smart, astute business professional who weighed each decision in very human terms.

And yes, he was humble. The clear humility that came forth as he discharged his decisions and actions was remarkable. I have seen many successful business leaders feel true sadness when faced with these kinds of essential, painful choices. A sadness that pulls them back long enough to measure the cost. But they openly share only a small amount of this humanness, showing instead the kind of clear-eyed, steady executional acumen that we’ve come to laud in our leaders.

Leadership humility, though, makes sorrowful changes a communal experience, one that removes the layers of structure to genuinely share the event.  It also allows a leader to more closely touch the people s/he leads, creating space for the release of new experiences, new transformations. These are real, lasting transformations that engender rebuilding and purpose.  These are transformations to believe in.

Let me know your experiences in the presence of a humble leader. What made this person remarkable? How did their presence impact the way you viewed your work? Why is this trait of humility so seemingly rare?

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