Author Jim Collins, in his bestselling book Good To Great, writes that a Level 5 leader (top tier) is one who “demonstrates a combination of deep personal humility with intense professional will.” When Collins’ book debuted, many who assumed they knew what made a great leader were surprised that one of the preeminent characteristics of a great leader was humility.
Building on Collins’ premise, Jeff Hyman, writing for Forbes magazine, unpacks why humility is so critical for leaders. “Humble leaders understand that they are not the
smartest person in every room. Nor do they need to be. They encourage people to speak up, respect differences of opinion and champion the best ideas, regardless of whether they originate from a top executive or a production-line employee. When a leader works to harness input from everyone, it carries through the organization. As other executives and line managers emulate the leader’s
approach, a culture of getting the best from every team and every individual takes root. In short, leaders know how to get the most from people. When things go wrong, humble leaders admit to their mistakes and take responsibility. When things go right, they shine the spotlight on others.”
As most of you know my long time soul brother and collaborator, Fran McKendree, died last week. As the news spread, countless testimonials have been posted on social media about the impact of his passing on people’s lives. The posts identify a clear theme about the way Fran engaged both groups and individuals with great humility. For the decades I worked alongside Fran, I witnessed time after time how he was always happy to walk with an aspiring artist. As a fellow musician said about Fran recently, “If there was anyone who could have been a diva, but wasn’t, it was Fran.”
Far too often I have witnessed an individual placed in a position of authority who then uses their position power to serve themselves over others. In my experience, leadership devoid of humility produces a compliance culture where folks minimally engage. Compliance cultures prioritize following rules whereas work place cultures led by “great” leaders, prioritize humility and relationship. Leadership that places a high value on relationship and humility inspires and invites others to fully participate. When leaders “respect the dignity of every human being” not only good, but often great things happen.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, often proclaims, “The opposite of love is not hate, but selfishness.” Selfishness leads to disconnection. Disconnection leads to isolation. Isolated leaders are the opposite of being “great leaders.”
Leading with humility builds relationships. Building relationships leads to respecting the dignity and gifts of others. When each person’s dignity and gifts are respected, the culture of the community or organization can become a powerful source of transformative work.