I have had the privilege of giving keynotes on servant leadership all over the world. I’m passionate about this leadership style, and I am always reading and learning all I can about it.
That’s why I am thrilled to talk with Howard Behar. Howard is the former President of Starbuck’s North America and the founding President of Starbucks International. When he joined, Starbucks had 28 stores and he helped grow it to over 15,000 stores on five continents. He was also on the Board of Directors for twelve years.
What I love about Howard is this: he could have stopped and enjoyed the fruits of his labor. But he instead mentors and teaches on servant leadership. He wrote two books:
To be successful today, leaders must develop relationships based on openness and trust. Leaders can no longer rely on formal hierarchical structures and processes. Instead, the new era of leadership is based on service, on teamwork, and even on humility.
To get us started, compare and contrast traditional leadership with “humble leadership.”
We see two common myths surrounding “traditional leadership” that humble leadership calls into question. First is the heroic “I alone” myth that suggests that the greatest leaders rise to the top on their own individual brilliance. By contrast, humble leadership proposes that leadership occurs throughout an organization, at all levels and in all roles, and reaches its pinnacles of success when groups drive better decisions and achieve better outcomes.
The second myth is that organizations are machines, directed with command and control, most successful when they can be described as a “well-oiled machine.” Humble leadership proposes that this is at best an antiquated view of organizations. Instead we think of organizations as living systems capable of cooperative resource sharing and adaptation better suited to the volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous (VUCA) world we are only now starting to accept.
“Humble means accepting that no individual can know more or make better decisions than any group at work.”
What do most people get wrong when they think of humble leadership?
Humble leadership is not about humility in the individual or religious sense. Humble means accepting that no individual can know more or make better decisions than any group at work. Humble means I go to work embracing the fact that I do not have all the answers and will do a better job by asking for help and helping others in the group to arrive at the best decisions. In Ed Schein’s Humble Leadership series, he refers to this framing of humility as “here and now humility.”
We see leadership as a verb not an entitlement. The foundational idea is that humble leadership requires the formation of personal relationships (at work and home) that allow two people or a group to achieve more than the sum of their individual outputs.
In Humble Consulting and Humble Leadership, a human relationship model is presented that describes human relationships in four levels. Level 1 is domination and exploitation (think prison guards or shop floor bosses in a sweatshop). Level 1 is transactional role-to-role interaction, cordial but typified by “professional distance.” Level 2 is a cooperative empathic connection between two whole persons formed by inquiring and sharing information. A Level 2 relationship is based upon, and continually reinforces, openness and trust. We refer to the process of creating Level 2 relationships as “personization.” Level 3 adds intimacy to openness and trust. This Level 3 ability to “finish each other’s sentences” is typically associated with lovers more than co-workers, though we do see Level 3 relationships in the highest performing teams (e.g. SEAL teams, orchestras, improv performers, and so on).
The essence of humble leadership is building Level 2 relationships with the people around you in order to improve and maximize information flow (openness) and cooperative work (trust). With these Level 2 relationships, anyone can arrive at work with here-and-now humility, knowing that he or she does not have all the answers, and confident that with inquiry and curiosity, better answers and outcomes will result.
No matter the industry, leaders face the same types of challenges. It’s a leader’s personal compass that makes all the difference.
Jeff Thompson, MD is chief executive officer emeritus at Gundersen Health System. He’s a pediatrician, an author, and a speaker on building a mission-driven culture. During his tenure, Gundersen Health was recognized for its quality care. Dr. Thompson was awarded the White House Champions of Change award in 2013.
You share the dramatic story of you intubating a baby, risking your own career to save a life. There are so many leadership lessons in this story. But I want to ask this: how do you teach others to make these decisions?
No leader can always be everywhere. No rule book can cover every situation. To prepare the staff first you need to believe you are there to build them, not rule them. Holding people accountable is looking backwards…being responsible for their success is looking forward. Give them the tools to make these decisions without you. You need to set a pattern of clarity of the values of the organization, the priority of service above hierarchy, service above self, long-term good over short-term self-protection. When they see you live this, when they see you recognize this in others and support this level of behavior, they will have the courage to do the same.
“You want to invite new ideas, not new rules.” –Dan Heath
Courage and discipline. You linked these together. Tell us why and how they relate.
Aristotle is attributed to have said, “Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.” Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it just means fear doesn’t get to make the choice. Having courage is a great start….without courage so little will move forward. But discipline gives courage legs. It focuses and moves the work forward. It keeps you from letting your courage make a stand but accomplish little.
For example…those protesting pipelines and coal burning are very courageous…but if they also have the discipline to lead the conservation effort…they will force the market pressures to limit new pipelines and coal burning. Courage plus discipline will have a much greater effect.
Or you may have bold clear no compromise rules in your organization about how all staff will be treated or how gender and diversity will be respected. Clear, courageous but not effective unless you have the discipline to live by it when one of your high performing stars behaves badly. You need the discipline to follow up on your bold stance. No one’s ego can be more important than the well-being of the staff or organization.
“Good leaders don’t tell people what to do, they give teams capability and inspiration.” –Jeffrey Immelt
This is a guest post by Jason Cooper. Jason is a communications professional at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to leading a multi-media communications unit at the university, he helps leaders improve their communications. You can also follow him on Twitter.
Leaders are usually in leadership positions because they have proven themselves in some capacity. They may have had the best technical skills, or the boldest and best ideas, or maybe they found themselves in a leadership position because they knew how to work with and motivate a team of people to accomplish far more than they could alone.
As leaders rise, however, there is a tendency to let it go to their heads. The faster a leader rises, the more likely this is to happen. Pride begins to set in, and pride is the gateway drug to arrogance.
“Pride is the gateway drug to arrogance.” -Jason Cooper
Leaders must strive to never confuse their skills with their value. I may be “better at” something, but that doesn’t mean I am “better than” someone. People matter! They may have a different skill set or serve in a different capacity, but they matter.
“Lousy leaders are ‘better’ at everything. Arrogant talent is a barrier to the growth of others. Humility opens doors for others.” ~ Dan Rockwell
Leaders who alienate people by their arrogance rarely last. But leaders who value people and elevate others create long lasting impact. Research continually reinforces that the ability to engage with people is a key indicator for success and employee performance.
Arrogance and Humility
No one sets out to become arrogant. We can each think of someone who we have known who over time has grown to be full of themselves. If arrogance is in fact something that can develop over time, then it also stands to reason that there are things we can do to avoid it happening to us. But it can be tricky. One can simply go through the motions in order to wear their humility like a shiny badge of honor.
A professor of mine in college would, after leading the class in sharing positive feedback regarding our in-class presentations, transition to sharing criticism with the phrase, “Lest a man [or woman] think more highly of himself than he ought…” In his honor, here are a few suggestions on how to cultivate humility.
“Leaders who alienate people by their arrogance rarely last.” -Jason Cooper
Seek out those who by the world’s standards are near the bottom. Get to know them. Ask them questions. Treat them as equals (because ultimately they are). You’ll find that you are not so different from them.
2. Intentionally share the credit with your team even when they aren’t around.
On March 13, 2013, 115 cardinals cast votes inside the Vatican to elect the next pope of the Roman Catholic Church. At 19:06 local time, white smoke could be seen drifting upwards following the election. The new pope, who would take the name Pope Francis, emerged from the conclave as the new leader of a global organization facing a number of serious issues.
Stepping onto the world stage, this new pope would inspire everyone with his humility and his concern for the poor. And, in so doing, he demonstrated a new model for leadership.
“Leadership is the ability to articulate a vision and get others to carry it out.” -Jeffrey Krames
What is it about Pope Francis that has made him so incredibly popular?
He is absolutely the real thing. I call him “The Authentic Leader.” How rare is that today? No political leaders seem to do anything for the betterment of anyone but themselves, and only after polling the issue. That is the opposite of Pope Francis, who is the most compassionate pope I have experienced in my lifetime. It is why I have dubbed him the “anti-Hitler.”
“If we can develop a truly humble attitude, we can change the world.” -Pope Francis
What attracted and inspired you, as a Jewish author, to research and write a book about the new Catholic pope?
The answer above answers this question in part. Growing up in a “Holocaust household” is a very difficult thing to do. There are ghosts of all the people who have perished (and now my kids must grow up as third generation survivor). So I see Francis as the first person in my lifetime amazing enough to earn the moniker of the anti-Hitler. He is the 21st century’s answer to the 20th century’s most malevolent mass-murderer. Hitler hated and attempted to eradicate what he felt was society’s worst. Francis works every day to lift up the people who have the least—the ones who have been relegated to “society’s dustbin.”
12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis
Lead with Humility.
Smell Like Your Flock.
Who Am I to Judge?
Make Inclusivity a Top Priority
Choose Pragmatism over Ideology.
The Optics of Decision-Making.
Run Your Organization Like a Field Hospital.
Live on the Frontier.
Overcoming vs. Sidestepping Adversity.
Pay Attention to Non-Customers.
Pope Francis continues to gain popularity and press every month. How will Pope Francis influence leaders in other organizations?