Tag Archives: humility

The Practical Gift of Humility

It’s that time of year again when we turn our thoughts to gift-giving.   This post, from 2010, reflects on the more intangible, but often priceless gifts,  we can give to each other.  In particular it focuses on what I think humility looks like when it is in action. And, by the way, this post was inspired by one written by Mary Jo Asmus. Be sure to visit her blog before you finish here. It’s a gift in itself to anyone who aspires to lead well.

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Some time ago, Mary Jo Asmus published a blog post entitled Giving Away Your Gifts.  It served as a reminder, to me at least, that non-tangible assets, when shared, are indeed gifts to those who receive them.

Mary Jo outlined a number of important gifts that leaders can give and then she asked us to think about other qualities that leaders might bring and apply at work.

I offered the gift of humility.

Mary Jo said it was a great gift but asked, “How would you give humility to others?”

Well, that started me thinking.  How indeed?  After all, humility is one of those things that is constantly in competition with the ego.  And, it’s not a quality that comes naturally or easily to human beings either.  In fact, we can’t actually give humility to another person.  Even the idea sounds a bit, well, arrogant doesn’t it?

I suppose I could go off on some esoteric journey about the righteousness of humility (a journey on which I would no doubt find myself alone), but right now, I’m more interested in looking at some of its more practical aspects.

Here are some that come to mind.  Leaders give the gift of humility every time they:

  • Praise others and give credit for work well done, without expectation of sharing in the tangible recognition that may come from it.
  • Give the challenge of new and exciting assignments to those who they feel will get the best result and grow from the experience, even if doing the work themselves would have earned them major bragging rights.
  • Step behind the rest of their team when accolades are being given for great results.
  • Look in the mirror first, when things go wrong.
  • Make the work and the collective effort of the team more important than their own status or image.
  • Express more pride in their teams, the work and their values than in themselves.

Okay, all this sounds tough.  And it is.  It may appear Paradoxical, but I think that to be able to carry off true leadership with humility, we need a healthy sense of self-esteem, because then we can more easily find contentment and pride in allowing others to shine brighter, or more often, than we do.   It is that, that makes it a gift.

Many of you will have heard of Jim Collins. He advocates the combination of humility and will as being present in the most accomplished and effective leaders.

He refers to it as “The Five”, meaning level five leadership and explains it here:

Do we have to be captains of industry to give the gift of humility?  The simple answer is no.  Does it mean that we have to turn into someone like Charles Dickens’ Uriah Heep to be humble? Certainly not.

But, it does take practice and sincerity. I’m still working on it. You?

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Filed under Building Relationships, Leading Teams, Employee engagement, Leadership Development, building awareness, Leadership

A Look at the Bones of Leadership…With the Iron Lady

This post from February 2012 considers four essential leadership requirements, looking through the lens of a woman who, over the course of her life was both loved and hated… but will never be forgotten.

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Margaret Thatcher.  This name means different things to different people.  Some vilify her for her uncompromising approach. Others praise her for the same reason.

Whatever side of the fence you may fall with respect to Mrs Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister of Great Britain, there is one indisputable truth.  Margaret Thatcher was a leader.

If you gather that the subject of this post began with a trip to the movies, you would be right.  Meryl Streep’s riveting performance in The Iron Lady  did indeed give rise to my curiosity and deeper thought about what lies in the bones of leadership

There are four things that come to mind

Abiding Purpose

Margaret Thatcher was driven by an abiding purpose to preserve the British way of life and restore its reputation on the world stage.  All else came in a distant second.  For many, how she went about fulfilling that purpose remains the source of great controversy.  Some people, who were negatively and personally affected by her decisions, may never forgive her for the change she brought to their lives.  Others will hold her up without hesitation as Britain’s savior at a time of great turmoil and indecision.  Regardless of the perspective, Mrs Thatcher seems to have always known what she was there to do and why it was important to do it.

Courage

The courage required of a world leader, like Margaret Thatcher is the kind of courage that compelled her to stand up in the face of great opposition and fight for what she believed.  Sometimes she fought alone.  But, she did it anyway because it was important and because as leader, it was her job to take risks and make decisions others shrank from.

Vulnerability

The bigger the job the more exposed is the leader.  When you make the kind of decisions that affect people’s lives, some will love you for it.  Some will not.   The business of leadership is not primarily about making friends. It is about challenging the status quo; helping others see what you see and changing something.  It invites criticism and sometimes, treachery.

Humility

Humility is not about being soft or weak nor is it about lacking confidence. Humility can sometimes roar. A truly humble leader will know exactly what she has to offer to the world, so much so that she will use all the precious time at her disposal to focus outwardly, on her goals and doing whatever it takes to accomplish them.  Margaret Thatcher once said, “ In my day, we would resolve to do something. Now, they resolve to be someone” 

If you are here, chances are you are not a World leader. So, you may ask; what does all of this have to do with me? Well, I think these four core leadership elements apply to everyone who wants to make a difference.  In a way, no matter if you run a small business, a large corporation, or  want to be the best parent you can be, it comes down to this:

  • The road to success is paved with intention.  Know your purpose and know, too, why it’s important
  • No matter what you do, the decisions you make will not please everyone.  Don’t waste your time trying.  Some will love you.  Some will not.  In the end, it rarely matters. In times of doubt, be guided by your purpose.
  • Be brave.  Make change.  Put strength behind your convictions.  Challenge complacency. Invite participation, discussion and involvement.
  • Know that rarely is anything about you.

The movie showed Baroness Thatcher, as she was near the end of her life, not very well and suffering from dementia.  Some have criticized the decision to show this.  To me though, it illustrates only too clearly that power diminishes and when all is said and done, we are  left with only ourselves.

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

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Another Kind of Leadership ~ Lessons from Barbara Ann Scott

I think it safe to say that when we contemplate great leadership, in general, our thoughts tend to drift toward industry and government leaders, people who speak eloquently, act boldly and inspire in a larger-than-life kind of way.

More and more though, I also think that many of us are expanding our vision of what it is to be a leader, to include people who, on first thought, might not fit into that traditional view.

I think Barbara Ann Scott was one such leader.  Ms Scott recently died at the age of 84 leaving behind a legacy of accomplishment and a gentle reminder that being nice does not preclude us from doing great things and inspiring others to do the same.

She was born in Ottawa in 1928 and from the age of seven, trained to be a world-class figure skater.  It is said that she gave up many of the pursuits of a typical young girl to pursue her dream.  And, in 1948 was rewarded for her focus and hard work when she earned a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. It was also in that year that a proud and admiring country bestowed upon her the title “Canada’s Sweetheart”.

Barbara Ann Scott stopped skating professionally after her marriage in 1955 and went to live in the United States.  But she never forgot her roots, making many trips back to the skating club in Ottawa that had trained her so many years before.

Skate Canada President, Benoit Lavoie is quoted as saying, “Every time she attended our events, she inspired our skaters and encouraged them to pursue their dreams”

If you were to listen to her speak, Barbara Ann Scott would not strike you as a particular force to be reckoned with.  Her voice was soft, almost childlike, but based on her accomplishments, her resolve carried with it the strength and maturity that some twice her size and three times as loud would be hard pressed to match.

As leaders, here are a few things I think we might draw from Ms Scott’s example:

Boldness comes in many forms ~ I have been guilty of equating boldness with aggression but more recently am learning that leaders can be very bold when it comes to giving voice to their values, goals, and purpose without having to shout. Leaders like Barbara Ann Scott boldly do and then let their actions speak for them.

Adaptability and focus are essential tools of leadership, no matter what the undertaking ~ In 1948, the Olympic skating rink was outdoors.   This meant that the chances of the ice surface being ideal were not that good.   When it came time for Barbara Ann to deliver her performance, some rough patches were noted on the ice that challenged her ability to skate the program she had rehearsed.  So, at the last minute, and without fanfare, she changed the program to accommodate the conditions.

It’s quite possible to lead and be nice at the same time~ Barbara Ann Scott accomplished many things in her life.  She and her husband raised show horses. She made television commercials, authored two books and even ran a beauty salon.  No matter what her prevailing passion, she was well known for being accessible to others, freely giving her time and energy so they might feel encouraged to keep going after whatever it was that inspired them.

Humility really is a big deal ~ While Barbara Ann was highly lauded and well regarded, each time she made an appearance, she never failed to express her gratitude for the opportunities presented to her and doubtless never left a room without inspiring someone to be just like her.

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

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Style, motivating & Inspiring

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

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

Six Ways To Make Collaboration Work

The other day, I went with my granddaughter to the playground and watched her as she dove happily into play with the other children.  I envied her ability to simply become part of the group.  It was lovely to see the easy cooperation that danced among them as they shared the various pieces of playground equipment and discussed the merits of this climbing apparatus over that.  It was then I began to think about collaboration and what it means.

Some people think that collaboration is just like that… playing and working together cooperatively for a common purpose.  In the case of the children in the playground that purpose is simply to have fun.  But, I think collaboration, while having elements of that, is more. It is a labor of love ~ deeper and more focused . It holds more tension and requires us to listen to each other and communicate on a variety of levels through diverse means.

Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University made reference to this in a keynote speech he made about collaboration.  He describes it as “co-operation on steroids”, an apt description, I think.

My definition goes like this:

Collaboration is the act of coming together and working with another, or others, to create something that goes beyond the ability of any one person to produce.

Here’s what I think it looks like when it’s in action:

Those who successfully collaborate:

Engage in, and value, conversation

They take an interest in others. In fact, they use conversation as a simple yet very effective way to learn about others and the potential they may have for working well together in collaborative efforts.

Find ways to draw out creativity in themselves and others

At Pixar, they use improvisation as a tool for opening doors to new ideas and perspectives.  Others use a variety of brainstorming techniques.  No idea is discounted or censored, just played with until it either becomes something bigger, or fizzles out.

Actively seek self-knowledge and Learning

Those who know what they’re good at and enjoy, also know how they can make their best contribution to the collaborative effort.  They use their curiosity as a tool to explore and discover new possibilities.

Invite Contribution and accept what is offered without judgment

Often it is the case that someone will offer an opinion or a piece of work and our first instinct is to look for flaws.  Those who collaborate productively resist the temptation to do this, choosing to build on what is offered instead through questions and discussion.

Make Others Look Good

In his keynote, Randy makes reference to making your partner look good. To me, this means focusing on the work and the contributions others make before seeking personal recognition

Manage disagreement well

While we might like to think that effective collaboration does not include disagreement, it does.  Those who are skilled collaborators see the value in the tension that disagreement can produce and use it as a bridge to get to something different, or something better.

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The bottom line for me is that collaboration is hard. Its success depends on making the work more important than any one individual.  It asks us to subordinate our desire to compete with others and instead find personal satisfaction in the joint effort.  But, done well, collaborative efforts produce some pretty amazing, and very successful things.  Just ask Pixar

What do you think? What would you add?

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Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Leadership, Leadership Style, Uncategorized

Sincerity…A Leadership Imperative

Sincerity.  It is perhaps not a word that springs to mind first when we think about highly successful and powerful business leaders but in today’s uncertain world there are things we need to be able to count on.  Sincerity in our leaders is one of those things.

The word sincerity likely has a number of definitions. To me, it is simply about representing ourselves genuinely, without guile or hypocrisy. And, like most worthwhile qualities, talking about being sincere is easier than actually living it.

There are a lot of temptations out there…temptations to pretend we are more knowledgeable, more experienced, more skilled, more empathetic, more important, even wealthier than we really are.  I know. We have our reasons for doing that but the truth is, most of them have everything to do with ‘us ‘and nothing whatsoever to do with ‘them’.  And we all know by now that leadership is not about ‘us’.

So, not only must leaders be personally vigilant about their own sincerity, they must also be on the look out for it when they are choosing people for leadership roles or helping them develop leadership skills.

In truth, it’s not that easy to spot.  It requires us to look beyond the words for consistency and alignment of words and actions.

I’m reminded of a time when I attended a function where sincerity, my own included, was notably absent.

It was Christmastime and our organization participated in a number of activities to support charitable causes.  Often, we would “buy” a table at a luncheon benefit with net proceeds going to the charity in question.

On this one particular winter’s day, eight of us were walking from the office building to such a luncheon being hosted at an upscale hotel a few blocks away.

We walked in a bunch; all well wrapped and well shod happily chatting together about nothing terribly important.  There were other bunches of business people as well, walking in the same direction and equally well dressed.

About one block from our destination, we passed a man sitting on the sidewalk. His hair was long, as was his beard and he held in his hand a Styrofoam cup and sign that said something like, “Hungry, Please Help”.

I suppose none of us will really know whether or not this man was representing himself sincerely but he was obviously not doing very well.

My group and I, (engrossed in our conversation and barely noticing the man), walked past him.

The people walking behind us did the same, with one exception.  One man stopped long enough to look at the man and say, “Get a job”.

On hearing this, I remember feeling ashamed of myself for not acknowledging the man and giving him something to ease the pain of his day.  I remember too, feeling appalled and outraged by the other man’s “get a job” comment.  It was an ignorant, throwaway remark that lacked any kind of compassion or decency.

But we all moved on, in a hurry, not to be late for our important luncheon.

We reached our table and seated ourselves.  A few minutes later Mr. Get-a-Job and his colleagues also entered the room. The irony of this story became clear then.  We were all there in support of the Salvation Army to help raise funds for the vital work they do to ease the lives of people just like the man we had seen sitting on the sidewalk… and so conveniently ignored.

On that day, it was clear too, that although we were physically present at the luncheon, we had left our sincerity behind, choosing instead to focus on being seen to do the right thing rather than actually doing it

In today’s environment there is little time for this kind of posturing.  We are being asked to step up and out of our pretenses.   I’m working on it because in my book, sincerity in leadership, (whether we lead only ourselves or multitudes of others), is a pretty big deal.

What do you think?  Do you have a story to share where the presence, or absence, of sincerity made the difference between success and failure?  I’d love to hear it.

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Filed under building awareness, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership…Creating an Environment of Service


A lot is being said about the leader as “servant”.  I expect, given that it is a relatively young term (having been ‘born’ in 1970), it is also subject to wide interpretation.  As such, while some people will experience great results from their efforts to serve; others will consider it a fad that will go away if they ignore it; and still others will make every effort to embrace the notion of the Servant Leader but find themselves exhausted, confused and possibly resentful because people seem to be walking all over them.

So what to do?  Well, first I’m thinking that we need some clarity about what it means to serve or be a servant.  So I looked it up in a number of dictionaries and found:

Servant leaders are humble stewards of their organizations’ resources

A Servant is one who serves another, providing help in some manner

A servant is a person who performs duties for others.

So far so good.  Then I went to the Thesaurus for some synonyms for the word servant. Between the words attendant and steward lay these words, lackey, flunky, minion and drudge. Okay then, herein may lie a problem.

Perhaps it is that many of us, when we think of the term Servant Leadership, take this subservient perspective (a.k.a. lackey, flunky, minion and drudge).  In other words, it suggests that by serving, we are also submitting to the whims of others for no other reason than to render them superior. And, let’s face it; our egos are going to have a hard time with that.

So, if you have been leaning in that direction when you think about the notion of Servant Leadership I have some good news for you.  I don’t think it’s about that at all.  Here’s what I do believe it’s about.

It’s about…knowing the Over-arching purpose

I believe a good servant leader will focus on an over-arching purpose. This purpose becomes the master and the guide for all activities undertaken within the framework of the company. The leader serves the purpose through people. For instance, Southwest airlines’ over-arching purpose is stated as:

“To provide the best service and lowest fares to the short haul, frequent-flying, point-to-point, non-interlining traveler.”

This simple statement lets everyone know why Southwest Airlines is in business and whom it is there, ultimately, to serve.  However, in order to succeed, this understanding of service must permeate the organization and so it also becomes the role of the leader to:

Serve the people who are working to fulfill the over-arching purpose

This means that the leader works to provide the resources needed for people to do their jobs well and happily.  It includes providing needed training, supplies, connections, information, accommodation, direction and anything else that allows people working in the company to move the organization closer to the achievement of its purpose.

It also means…encouraging and developing an environment where people serve each other

Okay, so I think where we can go wrong with this servant leadership thing is that we fail to expect all people working in the organization to serve too.  Or, we simply don’t convey it very well.

Those who believe servant leadership to be a role only for the designated leader would be wrong. In truth, an environment that embraces service will do so in an all-encompassing way.  This means that regardless of title or position, each person will both lead and serve another, or a group of others, to achieve company goals and make a contribution to the achievement of its purpose.

So, having said all that, what does it actually take to create this environment where service is king?  Well, for what it’s worth, this is what I think about that.

It takes Discipline: Staying focused on the over-arching purpose and using it, as a guide for providing service to others is not easy.  As humans, we can become easily distracted.  It may be easy to stay the course and remain true to the purpose when times are good.  But, when they are not so good, it becomes tempting to stray and do what is expedient instead.

It takes Humility: Putting others before ourselves is sometimes a challenge, especially in business, but humility is an essential ingredient in a successful service environment.  I’m not talking about being obsequious here.  I’m talking about simply being unselfish and mindful of others’ needs and contributions.

It takes Collaboration: Simply put, in order to serve the purpose and each other, we have to learn to work together, avoid internal politics and protectionism and share our ideas and resources with each other more freely.

It takes Trust:  Trust is often an earned thing.  However, a leader who serves the people will, in my view anyway, start from a platform of trust rather than skepticism.  In my experience, people respond well to a leader who conveys faith in their intent. People who feel trusted are more likely to be willing to serve the over-arching purpose.  Will you be disappointed? Yep, from time to time you will. But, if you start out not trusting my hunch is you’re going to be disappointed anyway.

And:

It takes Faith: I’m not talking about the religious kind of faith here.  I’m talking about the kind of faith that makes you believe so strongly in your company’s purpose and its people that all of your activities centre around them and the financial results that you realize from that come as a by-product of your collective effort.

So, is servant leadership for the faint of heart?  I’d say no.  Is it about subservience, or slavery?  Certainly not.  What do you think? What rewards have you experienced from leading from the perspective of service?  What challenges have you faced? What would you add?


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Leadership ~ What’s Love Got To Do With It?

I have never thought of myself as being particularly religious.  In fact, truth be told, I am downright cynical about religion.  But I do believe in the power of the human spirit.  I believe in empathy, in kindness… and in love.   I also believe there is a place for all of these in the workplace, that leadership is as much about these things as it is about building market share, managing the bottom line or developing strategic alliances.  These softer elements of ourselves make the difference between our being human and automaton. They are also most often the elements we deny, perhaps because they make us feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.

But, as long as we choose to work with human beings, these elements will be present.   Perhaps the question is then, how do we encourage and value them without getting all, well, mushy about it?

First of all it might be helpful to look at leadership and love in action.  This is a short promo video featuring a guy named Nick Vujicic.  Nick was born with no limbs.  In this video he talks to schoolchildren.  Watch and look, not at Nick, but at the faces of the children as he speaks to them.

Inspiring huh? if you’re anything like me you will have needed a hankie at some point.  But, all of that aside, I’m wondering about the lessons that business leaders can learn from Nick and how these lessons can be practically applied in the workplace.

Here are some of my thoughts about that.

People are capable of doing more than they think.

Their leaders would do well to remember this and to know too, that they just need a reason to want to try.  That means recognizing potential and encouraging those who have it, to reach beyond what they believe to be their limit.  They will do it if they know you believe in them; if their efforts are acknowledged; and if they are not punished when, from time to time, they fail.

Inspiring others does not have to be elaborate

Nick conveyed the message to me that you don’t have to have a big fanfare to inspire others.  You do have to be a good role model though.  And you do have to find ways of seeing things through their eyes and coming to understand what might be getting in the way of their delivering the best of themselves when they come to work each day.  That’s the hard part.  It’s also the part that no big incentive program can hope to convey.  Simply listening, understanding and acknowledging will, I think, have a more positive effect.

Pessimism is the Enemy

It is clear from the video that in spite of his significant challenges, Nick is a happy person.  He is also a realistic person who prefers not to spend his time wishing for things that are outside the realm of his control.  He focuses instead on what is possible now and what could be possible in his future.  He never gives up.

For leaders to create a working environment where this kind of optimism rules, they must avoid bemoaning what is missing and embrace what is there to create and to build on.  As mentioned in an earlier post, attitude is catching.  A Pessimistic attitude spreads like wildfire and serves only to undermine even the most noble of efforts.

The bottom line, for me, is this.  Anyone who leads with empathy and in the knowledge that people are at their best when they are respected, challenged, acknowledged and held accountable for their own behaviour and contribution, is a person who also leads with, (yes, wait for it now) Love.

What do you think?  What did you see that I missed?

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Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership Values, motivating & Inspiring

The Practical Gift of Humility

A few weeks ago Mary Jo Asmus published a blog post entitled Giving Away Your Gifts.  It served as a reminder, to me at least, that non-tangible assets, when shared, are indeed gifts to those who receive them.

Mary Jo outlined a number of important gifts that leaders can give and then she asked us to think about other qualities that leaders might bring and apply at work.

I offered the gift of humility.

Mary Jo said it was a great gift but asked, “How would you give humility to others?”

Well, that started me thinking.  How indeed?  After all, humility is one of those things that is constantly in competition with the ego.  And, it’s not a quality that comes naturally or easily to human beings either.  In fact, we can’t actually give humility to another person.  Even the idea sounds a bit, well, arrogant doesn’t it?

I suppose I could go off on some esoteric journey about the righteousness of humility (a journey on which I would no doubt find myself alone), but right now, I’m more interested in looking at some of its more practical aspects.

Here are some that come to mind.  Leaders give the gift of humility every time they:

  • Praise others and give credit for work well done, without expectation of sharing in the tangible recognition that may come from it.
  • Give the challenge of new and exciting assignments to those who they feel will get the best result and grow from the experience, even if doing the work themselves would have earned them major bragging rights.
  • Step behind the rest of their team when accolades are being given for great results.
  • Look in the mirror first, when things go wrong.
  • Make the work and the collective effort of the team more important than their own status or image.
  • Express more pride in their teams, the work and their values than in themselves.

Okay, all this sounds tough.  And it is.  It may appear Paradoxical, but I think that to be able to carry off true leadership with humility, we need a healthy sense of self-esteem, because then we can more easily find contentment and pride in allowing others to shine brighter, or more often, than we do.   It is that, that makes it a gift.

Many of you will have heard of Jim Collins. He advocates the combination of humility and will as being present in the most accomplished and effective leaders.

He refers to it as “The Five”, meaning level five leadership and explains it here:

Do we have to be captains of industry to give the gift of humility?  The simple answer is no.  Does it mean that we have to turn into someone like Charles Dickens’ Uriah Heep to be humble? Certainly not.

But, it does take practice and sincerity. I’m still working on it. You?

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The Story of a Great Leader

If you were to ask me to describe someone who demonstrated greatness in leadership, I might be tempted to paint the picture of a larger- than- life super hero, perhaps a president, a king, or a captain of industry.

I might not come up with Roberta Guaspari.

No, Roberta would not be the first person that would come to mind when I thought about greatness in leadership.  But nevertheless, Roberta is indeed a great leader.

Roberta Guaspari teaches children to play the violin.  When she first started, she was a single parent to two young boys.  To earn her living she arranged to provide violin lessons in school to the children of East Harlem.  What she had going for her was the love of music; the ability to play and the strong desire to make a difference to children whose opportunities were limited by their circumstances.

She has a passionate vision that is clear to everyone who comes across her or her story.   Her vision is “for kids to have music in their lives”

She believes that her vision is important because music, “empowers these children with the ability to make something beautiful that allows them to believe in themselves and know they’re special” This is her primary purpose, to help children love music, play music and believe in themselves.

Roberta’s primary purpose is not about money or attention for herself.  It is about something bigger than that, much bigger.  She is a great leader because not only can she see a better future for the children she teaches, she helps them get there, even against great odds.

In 1991, Roberta’s music program was cut from the school board budget.   That meant that not only was she out of a job but the children (and their parents), who so depended on her, would lose something that had become vital to their development and future.

Roberta did not back down.

Instead, she kept her focus.  She forged relationships with people who had the power to help.  And they did.  She plucked up her courage and made much larger strides that I suspect even she thought herself capable of. Throughout it all, it seems that she never lost sight of her primary purpose.

Empathy, Vision, Focus, Determination, Courage, …and a violin, This is what makes Roberta Guaspari a great leader.

The violin, notwithstanding, I assert that these qualities are common among great leaders of all descriptions.

  • They have clear, well-articulated visions of the future
  • They lead with great will, humility and focus
  • They build strong relationships with a variety of people
  • They strive to achieve things that are greater than themselves and for the greater good

Of course you  may know that a movie about Roberta’s life and accomplishments was made, starring Meryl Streep.  If you have seen the movie, what do you think?  What have I missed?

What does greatness look like to you?  What do you want for those you lead?

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Filed under Building Relationships, Leadership Values, motivating & Inspiring