A Study in Leader Humility

This is the story of  Colin Jenkins.  Never heard of him?  Well, that’s because Colin, in spite of having made a huge contribution to Canada’s Olympic effort in Beijing in 2008, prefers it that way.

Colin Jenkins is an athlete in his own right.  But, instead of working for himself, he chose to partner with Simon Whitfield, a Canadian Triathlete, with the sole purpose of helping Simon win an Olympic medal for Canada in the 2008 games.

Rick Hansen calls Colin Jenkins a Difference Maker.    Here is his story. (the clip begins with an annoying advertisement but I hope you’ll hang in there. It’s worth the look)

Colin’s story reminds me of the vital role humility can play in leading a business organization.  It also tells me that if there is one Colin, there have to be many more like him, quietly working away, not for the glory, but for the pleasure of being part of something great, something much bigger and more important than themselves.

For some of us, this is hard to imagine.  After all, the human ego being what it is, those who rejoice in the achievement of a collective goal with no expectation of personal accolade seem quite rare.  But is this the case really? Or is it that we are just not looking for these “No glory, all guts” people? Or, really seeing them?

Perhaps it is that we have to stop once in a while and purposefully consider the difference makers in our own lives and organizations.   The question is, how will we recognize them when we come across them, these quiet leaders whose uniform is more Diana Prince than Wonderwoman or Clark Kent than Superman?

Well, maybe we simply have to look for the clues.  What kind of clues? Well, I’m not entirely sure because I rather think difference makers come in many forms.  But perhaps we might start by paying some attention to those who:

  • Are generally quiet but not hesitant to speak clearly and succinctly when they see an opportunity to contribute.
  • Show enthusiasm for group projects and encourage and support the efforts of others without fanfare.
  • Consistently show up and stay the course even when the going gets tough
  • Boast about, and celebrate, team accomplishments while downplaying their own.
  • Are not reluctant to admit their individual limitations, in service of ensuring the job gets done.
  • Value learning as a tool for ramping up their ability to make a meaningful contribution

There are others, of course.  But the point is, humility by its very nature lives quietly.  That doesn’t mean it should go unrecognized.  People who lead from behind, or from within, do indeed make a difference.  I like that Rick Hansen chose to feature Colin Jenkins in his Difference Maker Series.   I expect Colin is very pleased by it too.  But, I doubt that he will allow it to swell his head because, it seems, he just isn’t made that way.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

P.S. For some reason some people have not been able to access the video. I’m hoping this link will work. Click here



Filed under Leadership, Leadership Style, Leading Teams, Organizational Effectiveness

11 responses to “A Study in Leader Humility

  1. Very good list of important attributes to recognize on your team. I worok with people like that and they are invaluable.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Karin ~ Thanks for that. I expect at one time or another, we have all worked with people like that. Recognizing their value is perhaps something we could well do more of.

  2. Gwyn – Thank you for another well-written post. Beyond writing well on this topic an others, I believe you embody humility, and more. You are willing to speak out boldly. To be simultaneously bold, on behalf of the vision or idea; and humble on behalf of Self, is, in my view, a rare combination and one of the most important qualities of real excellence in leadership.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Anne ~ I’m deeply touched by your words. And, I am also inspired to strive to live up to them. Thank you.
      What also comes to mind is, the very fine balance there is between the right amount of boldness and the right amount of humility. Too much, or too little, of either one will not produce a desired result. That’s a challenge I think we all face. It, (along with Susan’s point about being prepared to stand in the spot light at times) makes me wonder, at what point does humility become something we hide behind or boldness become arrogance? And, when we find that balance, how do we maintain it? I’m not sure of the answer, but I think it has something to do with engaging other people in keeping us ‘honest’, people who will help us recognize when we need to step up, or step back or shut up or speak up. Any thoughts? Anyone?

  3. susanmazza

    Great story Gwyn. Thanks for sharing it. These people likely way outnumber the people whose stories we know. I especially appreciate this point you make: …” humility by its very nature lives quietly. That doesn’t mean it should go unrecognized.” One I might add to your list is: Someone who can be counted on to speak and act based on their commitments no matter what (including when it ends up putting them in the spotlight!)

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Susan ~ That’s a big one and it tells me, quite clearly, that humility’s constant companion must be courage…or it is in danger of becoming something else, something less. Thanks for adding that. It’s an important one.

  4. Thanks for sharing this story and post. So, here’s a question: Are Canadians more humble than Americans? Being married to a Canadian, who has more humility than anyone I’ve known in my American life, makes me wonder. What do you think?

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Jamie ~ Wow, a very big question. I think that humility tends to be an individual thing rather than something indigenous to any particular country. A Canadian is just as capable of being ego-centric as anyone. Over the course of my career, I have met quite a few of them too. Conversely, I have also met some very gracious, self-deprecating Americans. I suspect that humility comes to us at a point when we see and want to be part of something so important it supersedes our individual need to stand out. And, that can happen to anyone no matter what side of the border (any border really) you hang your hat. Thanks for asking the question. It got me thinking. Anyone else want to weigh in on Jamie’s question?

  5. Kevin Liles

    Gosh- The Youtube clip must not be available in America. I’m getting the message “The uploader has not made this video available in your county”. Anyone have any ideas?

  6. Pingback: A Study in Leader Humility | digitalNow | Scoop.it

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