Preview Thursday - Humble Leadership

The following is an excerpt from Humble Leadership:The Power of Relationships, Openness and Trust by Ed & Peter Schein.


Organizations around the world are struggling with the increasing rate of change, the degree of global interconnectedness, multiculturalism, and the pace of technological advances. Climate change is accelerating. Product specialization is accelerating. Cultural diversification is accelerating. It is becoming obvious that keeping pace in this world will require teamwork and collaboration of all sorts based on the higher levels of trust and openness created by more personalized relationships. Teams will require other teams to share what works and what they know. Humble Leadership at all levels will be needed to link workgroups and teams. Self-centeredness, quid pro quo machinations, political one upmanship—behaviors that come naturally to individual climbers in hierarchies—will be discredited if not punished as selfish wastes of time. Organizations who can recast their self-image, design and redesign themselves to be adaptable living organisms, will increase their own success and survival rate.

Organizations today are doing all kinds of experiments in how work is defined and are showing great flexibility in how roles and authority are allocated. What we see in these experiments is that they encourage relationships that are more personal. Bosses, direct reports, team members, and resources from other teams are making it a point to get to know each other at a more personal level, fostering more openness and, in time, more trust and the psychological safety to speak up and be heard.

“Professional distance”, the way we were taught to relate to each other in formal hierarchies with tightly-defined roles and individual incentives to “climb the corporate ladder” may be as antiquated as typing pools and mimeograph machines. Whether professional or not, this distance, concealing information, may in fact create more risk for the organization than could be offset by any gain to the ambitious ladder-climber.

To make organizations more effective, to lead what has increasingly come to be labeled “culture change” or “transformation,” the relationship between the emergent leader and the organizational followers who will implement the changes has to become a more personal and cooperative Level 2 relationship.

We are already seeing a drift toward Level 2 relationships as doctors with patients, product designers with their customers, teachers with their students, and team leaders with their members are discovering that things work better and are emotionally more satisfying when the relationship becomes more personal. Level 2 personal, open, and trusting relationships have to be developed throughout workgroups to facilitate cultural transformations and build the innovative capacities that the VUCA world will require.

In a Level 2 relationship, I convey that “I see you.” This is not necessarily “I like you” or “I want to be your friend,” or “Let’s get our families together,” but I let you know through my words, demeanor, and body language that I am aware of your total presence, that in this relationship we are working together and are dependent on each other, are trying to trust each other, and should each try to see the other as more than a fellow employee, or associate, or team member, but as a whole person. Seeing each other as whole persons is primarily a choice that we can make. We already know how to be personal in our social and private lives.

Humble Leadership involves making that conscious choice in our work lives.

Edgar H. Schein is the author of numerous bestselling books, including the recent Humble Inquiry and Humble Consulting. Schein recently retired from the position of the Society of Sloan Fellows Professor of Management Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

He has received ample recognition for his work, with multiple lifetime achievement awards from associations such as the American Society of Training Directors (2000), the Academy of Management (2009), and the International Leadership Association (2012). Edgar Schein is renowned as the father of organizational cultural studies.

Peter A. Schein is a Silicon Valley innovator with 30 years of business experience at large and small technology companies, including Apple, SGI, and Sun Microsystems in corporate development and M&A.

He has an undergraduate degree in anthropology from Stanford, an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern, and an OD certificate from the USC Center for Effective Organizations. Humble Leadership is his second writing collaboration with his father, Ed.

Twitter feed is not available at the moment.