I was teaching a class last week, and we were covering the idea of humility in leadership. I’ve been fascinated over my 30 years of “adult” life with the idea of leadership and – in particular – the contrast between leaders leading from the basis of humility versus hubris. Clearly, we all want our leaders to be humble We probably even believe that we are humble leaders. But, realistically, this trait is hard to find. Oddly enough, US organizations often chase after leaders who seem larger than life.
Jim Collins, author of the best-selling From Good to Great listed what he called level five leadership – the rare blend of humility and intense professional will – as one of the seven must-have factors for greatness (defined by Collins as cumulative stock returns at least 3.0 times better than the general stock market over fifteen years, a performance superior to most widely admired companies). Collins points out that the antithesis of the level five leader is the “celebrity” or “charismatic” leader.
In our discussion in class last week, a group of highly specialized physician leaders discussed the concept. The conclusions were clear:
- Yes, we all want to follow humble leaders
- Yes, it ‘s hard to lead with humility
- Yes, the most impactful leaders in our lives have been the humble but intense ones.
Collins and others speculate on the difficulty of cultivating humility as a character trait in leaders. Is it natural or nurtured?
I believe this: humility is often the fruit of radical change, fertilized by extreme difficulty.
As you wander into this holiday weekend, consider the humility of a group of patriots who led our fledgling union into a new age of independence. I am thankful for their humility and intense will.