Today's Reading


Leader humility—supporting others' dignity—improves working together because it is the essential foundation for healthy relationships. Leaders create the container for how work is done. A physical container is an object in which we hold, mix, or store something. In a similar way, leaders create the environments or cultures in which we do our work: the people, processes, and practices for how we interact.

Leader humility is the container for healthy relationships with all stakeholders (such as direct reports, coworkers or bosses, legislators, media, vendors, community leaders, or customers). When leaders display humility, a tendency to regard others' dignity as important, the container created for work emphasizes respect for everyone. Interactions become comfortable, and information is freely shared. Because working together is enjoyable, people are motivated to collaborate on shared goals.

When leaders lack humility, when they frequently disregard others' dignity, the container for work becomes unhealthy. Simply put, violating others' dignity harms relationships. Those who feel disrespected become cautious around the leader, sometimes withholding important information if they feel the leader is critical of them. As resentment grows, stakeholders are less inclined to lend their full support. Working together suffers as tensions build. Progress slows and political behavior often grows.

Stakeholders have their own important worries—things like fairness, the amount of change they are being asked to embrace, and their own personal goals. When you think about it, people have three prime questions when facing a new leader (see figure 1). Whether they are asked aloud or merely observed, others evaluate leaders on these dimensions when deciding whether they want to follow along and to what extent.

Curiosity about these questions flows from the observers' personal concerns and is tied to their core sense of dignity, or self-worth. When the answers are favorable, people grow inspired and eager to engage with a leader. Favorable answers allow the leader to connect with the whole person—mind, heart, and spirit—so that people want to join in the quest and give it their all. Yet when the answers are unfavorable, people tend to withdraw or resist.

FIGURE 1. Three Prime Questions People Have of Leaders.

Who Are You?

Where Are We Going?

Do You See Me?

Has it always been like this? Were these questions always important? Or has something shifted over the past decade or two?

"The challenge comes from society's expectations of a traditional leader. The top three words that we think of for leaders would include things like "accomplished," "decisive," "strong." We think of leaders as action-oriented, driven, type A people. These are very different times. Leaders are being put more into glass houses than ever before. We are being scrutinized, called to task more, and held accountable. People can go on Glass Door to rate their leader."

"I do think it's changing now. There's a lot more focus on transparency in leadership. The presence of the internet is making that happen because people can quickly report what's going on.

Because they can tweet or email, we can see inside organizations. So, there's a shift away from being autocratic toward more servant leadership. Still, there are way too many leaders using the older approach." —HOWARD BEHAR, FORMER PRESIDENT OF STARBUCKS COFFEE COMPANY INTERNATIONAL

Is there evidence that most leaders are missing the mark? There is. In a consolidated report, Forbes Councils (Castle 2018) shared results from multiple surveys they had conducted of their communities of prominent executives and entrepreneurs. The results identified leadership as the number three challenge facing business executives (just behind generating revenue and time). Leadership was found to be the single most significant concern by 57 percent of Forbes Human Resources Council, 50 percent of Forbes Nonprofit Council, and 38 percent of Forbes Technology Council. Leadership dominated the concerns among executives in computer and technology industries (36 percent) and was named as the most important concern among VPs (33 percent) and C-suite executives (30 percent). Finally, leadership was identified as the greatest challenge by 42 percent of executives in companies with fifty-one to five hundred employees—a substantial portion of the US private workforce. So, what the executives in Forbes Councils know is that our collective competence in leadership is far below what we need to manage the business challenges at hand.


Foreword by Alan Mulally
1. Leading as Relationship
2. The Heart of Humility
3. The Deal with Dignity
4. Who I Am
5. The Direction I Set

6. How I Treat You
7. Working Together Management System by Alan Mulally
8. The Art and Practice of Humility
9. The Formation of Leader Humility
10. Extraordinary Power—for Business and Beyond

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