leadership and the lost art of humility

You’re probably familiar with the work of Jim Collins, researcher, speaker and author of the best selling book Good to Great. You’ll remember the 5-year research project exploring what turns a good company into a great one. You’ll also recall, much to all of our surprise, the findings that every good to great company had one thing in common. Every good to great company was led by what Collins labeled as a Level-5-Leader – that is, leadership marked by two characteristics: steely determination and an attitude of humility.

In this book Humilitas, A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership author John Dickson gets laser focused on one of those two characteristics that seemingly set Level-5-Leaders apart from the pack, humility and its unique relationship to leadership. An area that frankly many “leadership experts” avoid.

This was a great read and one that I would highly recommend to any leader interested in personal growth and development. In fact below are some of my favorite quotes and ideas from the book that had an impact on me:

“The most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility. True greatness, in other words, frequently goes hand in hand with a virtue that, on the face of it, might be thought to curb achievement and mute influence. In fact, I believe it does the opposite.”

“Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. More simply, you could say the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others.”

“…leadership at its core is about coping with change. Not change for change’s sake, but movement toward a goal necessarily involving change. Whereas managers cope with complexity…responding to the week-by-week operations and details of the organization, leaders look to the months and years ahead and imagine, communicate and strategize the organization’s transformation.”

“Leadership is not about popularity. It is about gaining people’s trust and moving them forward.”

“Knowing a lot in one area should, in theory, underline just how much there is to know outside your specialty…Knowing a lot in fact demonstrates how much I don’t know. Expertise could legitimately be described as uncovering the depths of my ignorance. It is a principle that leaders should ponder regularly.”

“…feeling small is not the same thing as being humble.”

“In business, sport, the military or anywhere you care to mention, we are more attracted to the great who are humble than to the great who know it and want everyone else to know it as well. It is a simple psychological reality for most in our culture that humility (rightly understood) is regarded as beautiful.”

“If greatness is enhanced by humility, it is doubly diminished by pride and false humility.”

“I am not talking about allowing others to walk all over you. That would be humiliation. Instead, I mean opening yourself up to the vulnerability of being wrong, receiving correction and asking others how they think you could do better. In this sense the low place is the high place. It is where you develop.”

“I’m no psychologist but I imagine that humility not only signals security; it probably fosters it too. I am increasingly convinced that a healthy self-worth is rooted far more in service than achievement, far more in giving than taking.”

“It’s a fascinating truth worthy of every leader’s reflection: mistakes of execution are rarely as damaging to an organization, whether corporate, ecclesiastical, or academic, as a refusal to concede mistakes, apologize to those affected and redress the issue with generosity and haste.”

“…whether or not we think that influencing others contradicts humility, it is a simple observational reality that the humble are frequently more persuasive and inspiring than the arrogant.”

“Humility applied to convictions does not mean believing things any less; it means treating those who hold contrary beliefs with respect and friendship.”

Posted in Leadership, Spiritual Formation

3 Responses to “leadership and the lost art of humility”

  1. Ryan Scott May 25, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    Wow, amazing stuff. I think it’s actually a God thing. I remember struggling with the thought that, if I’m humble people will think I’m less than I am. If I don’t market myself then I won’t ever be taken seriously. However I learned that some of the most valuable people in my life were the ones that were meek, and humble.

    The secret is in not getting your personal value from peers, jobs, possessions and offices. When you’re personal value is found in God, you have no need for earthly pride. You are fulfilled in that your value is the King of Kings.

    Awesome post and I’m getting that book!

  2. Paul Alexander May 25, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    I’m with you Ryan, you’re going to love the book. Definitely worth the read!

  3. Dan Black May 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    This sounds like a great book. I really liked Good to Great and am looking forward to reading this book. Thank you for sharing it.

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