Zen and the Art of Humility

Humility is a good thing.

Coaching leaders and managers for over twenty years has taught me if you want one to be successful long-term – more than a year – you've got to train them to accept and incorporate feedback.

Some might see feedback as purely negative, a limit on potentiality. We want to believe we can do anything. But can we do it well without corrective feedback along the way?

The truth is understanding our limits is a good thing. It keeps us from making significant errors. Errors that impact others.

Humility defined is a “modest view of one's importance.” Seen in this light its a zen concept. We are part of the whole. Good leaders think about the whole.

Building leadership takes three essential steps each facilitated by a solid underpinning of giving and receiving feedback.

Make no mistake: if your organization does not feast on feedback, you are not building leaders.

Three Ways to Build Leaders

  • Big responsibilities – Potential leaders need big responsibilities early. The kind that really hurt if not done well. Exposure, limelight, call it what you will. Leaders learn by swimming in the deep end of the pool. True, we need lifeguards on duty, but to jump in only when lives are at stake. In early developmental stages leaders need the opportunity to fail: its here they first get the taste of feedback as fuel. Input as excitement and correction as concern. Give them big projects, accept a few hits along the way and constantly offer them feedback
  • Career changes – Leadership means dealing outside of your comfort zone, learning to be effective even when your moorings are lost and you're not sure about yourself. This is because leadership is about the power of the whole. Leadership is not me-centered – demagoguery is me-centered. Authentic leaders accept career changes for what they are: opportunities to lead in unfamiliar territory by relying on and unleashing the power of the team. Leadership is as much science as art: lead in unfamiliar disciplines by using feedback as oxygen and career disruptions are not so scary
  • Tough assignments – No one ever learned anything when the going was easy. Leaders must take on hard assignments, the roles other people don't want. Whether rebuilding a brand or team or launching a new product or territory leaders have to do tough things. Hard things. Things that require blood, sweat and tears. And yes, things that bring pause as we reflect on how well we're doing. Like the Roman slave whispering in one's ear someone has to give the aspiring leader the other side of the story. The feedback needed to grow

Humility isn't denial or denigration of ability. Its the recognition that we are part of the whole. One part. Effective leaders practice the art of humility by encouraging and considering feedback as a means of continuing self-monitoring.

Nature knows no stasis: leadership skills either grow or atrophy.

Humility lets us choose growth.

 

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3 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Humility

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