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.
In the book, she shared five tips that help you not to get trapped in the digital marketplace. As I read these tips, I realized that they aren’t just applicable to those freelancing. These five tips are important for us all.
Here are five important ways to be ready to compete:
Keep your resume, portfolio, business cards, website, and portfolio up-to-date.
Just because you’re not looking for a jobby job doesn’t mean you can let your PR slack. Make sure to keep your resume on the cutting edge, put your most recent work in your portfolio, order business cards that reflect what you currently do, and add everything new you do to your professional website. Make sure that your online presence contains: a thorough overview about what you do and why you’re the best at it; your current resume; a list of services and pricing; testimonials and reviews; a past client roster with logos (if appropriate); an introductory video; and a contact page that lets potential customers reach you a number of different ways. When you actually show up on someone’s radar, you’d better make sure they’re seeing you at your best.
Digital Tip: When you show up on someone’s radar, make sure they see you at your best.
The elevator pitch is what you say to Richard Branson (or whatever billionaire is most interesting to you) when he shakes your hand and casually mentions he’s looking for a superstar. What exactly do you do and why are you the best at it? Learn how to say it in under two minutes. If it’s good, a potential contact will ask you to elaborate. If they’re not interested, then hopefully, your pitch will be memorable enough to pass your name along to the next billionaire.
Career Tip: Be ready with a superb elevator speech at all times.
If you’re good at repairs, why not keep active profiles on Handy and TaskRabbit? Not only will you be meeting a diverse clientele from different platforms, you’ll also be able to pick up insight about how much people will pay for particular jobs when you strike out on your own.
Sebastian is the founder of PTS Consultants and works with executives and organizations to deliver exceptional results. I recently spoke with him about his new research.
Why is leadership experiencing such a crisis moment with increased skepticism and a marked loss of trust?
The main reason is that traditional approaches to leadership are no longer working, the game is changing and current leadership practices are outdated.
Most people think societal and economic systems are no longer working – they have had enough! Declining confidence and trust in leaders, and the consequent low levels of employee engagement, have become a problem for governments, industry—including banks—and even non-government organizations.
A top-performing leader has a 50% higher impact on a business.
The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, which samples more than 33,000 respondents from 28 countries, found people’s concerns center around corruption, globalization, immigration, an erosion of social values and the pace of innovation. Not surprisingly, CEO credibility is at its lowest level ever. It has dropped 12 points globally to an all-time low of 37 percent, declining in all countries surveyed, and government leaders (29 percent) remain least credible. “The gap between the trust held by the informed public and that of the mass population has widened to 15 points, with the biggest disparities in the U.S. (21 points), U.K. (19 points) and France (18 points). The mass population in 20 countries distrusts their institutions, compared to only six for the informed public.”
The growing multibillion dollar leadership development industry is failing to deliver results, and according to the 2016 Harvard Business Review article ‘Why leadership training fails—and what to do about it’, corporations have become victims of ‘the great training robbery.’
Beyond research, the briefest glance at the television news or newspapers paints a vivid picture of the global leadership crisis, with escalating trends of violence, depravation, injustice, coercion and the abuse of power – pervasive images to dismay even the most casual viewer.
What separates effective communicators from truly successful persuaders?
Since I read hundreds of books each year, I am always talking about them. Some books are quickly forgotten and others stay with you. And then there are a few books that are so extraordinary that they merit a second read and deserve a prominent place on your closest shelf. Not to impress, but to be there when you need to refer to an idea or refresh your mind.
“Every battle is won before it is fought.” -Sun Tzu
The book I’m talking about in this post is in that rare category. The author, Dr. Robert Cialdini, is best known for his groundbreaking work, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which is a perennial bestseller. It’s so good that it’s become part of our collective thinking. From social media to sales to leadership techniques, it’s a classic.
You spent time infiltrating the training programs of numerous companies. What was the biggest surprise for you during this time?
You’re right. As a kind of secret agent, I once infiltrated the training programs of a broad range of professions dedicated to getting us to say yes. In these programs, advanced trainees were often allowed to accompany and observe an old pro who was conducting business. I always jumped at those opportunities because I wanted to see if I could register, not just what practitioners in general did to succeed, but what the best of them did. One such practice quickly surfaced that shook my assumptions. I’d expected that the aces of their professions would spend more time than the inferior performers developing the specifics of their requests—the clarity, logic, and desirable features of them. That’s not what I found.
Research: high achievers spend more time than others preparing before making a request.
The highest achievers spent more time crafting what they did and said before making a request. They set about their mission as skilled gardeners who know that even the finest seeds will not take root in poorly prepared ground. Much more than their less effective colleagues, they didn’t rely merely on the merits of an offer to get it accepted; they recognized that the psychological frame in which an appeal is first placed can carry equal or even greater weight. So, before sending their message, they arranged to make their audience sympathetic to it.
Surprising findings from Dr. Cialdini:
You are more likely to choose a French wine if you’ve just been exposed to French music.
You are more inclined to buy inexpensive furniture if the website wallpaper is covered in pennies.
You will likely be more careful if you just viewed a picture of Rodin’s The Thinker.
You are more likely to feel someone is warmer if they have just handed you hot chocolate.
You are more likely to purchase a popular item if you start to watch a scary movie.
How Seating Arrangements Influence Your Perception
Let’s talk about our point of view. Even the subtle change of seating arrangements or the view of the camera changes everything. What are some implications of this finding?
Imagine you are in a café enjoying a cup of coffee and, at the table directly in front of you, a man and woman are deciding which movie to see that evening. After a few minutes they settle on one of the options and set off to the theater. As they leave, you notice that one of your friends had been sitting at the table behind them. Your friend sees you, joins you, and remarks on the couple’s movie conversation, saying, “It’s always just one person who drives the decision in those kinds of debates, isn’t it?” You laugh and nod because you noticed that, although he was trying to be nice, it was clearly the man of the couple who determined the movie choice. Your amusement disappears, though, when your friend continues, “She sounded sweet, but she just pushed until she got her way.”
Dr. Shelley Taylor, a social psychologist at UCLA, knows why you and your friend could have heard the same conversation but come to opposite judgments about who produced the end result. It was a small accident of seating arrangements: You were positioned to observe the exchange over the shoulder of the woman, making the man more visible and salient, while your friend had the reverse point of view. Taylor and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments in which observers watched and listened to conversations that had been carefully scripted so neither discussion partner contributed more than the other. Some observers watched from a perspective that allowed them to see the back of one or another discussant and the face of the second; other observers’ perspectives allowed them to see both faces equally (from the side). All the observers were then asked to judge who had more influence in the discussion over its tone, content, and direction. The outcomes were always the same: These ratings of responsibility corresponded with the visibility of the discussants’ faces. Whoever’s face was more visible was judged to be the more influential.
This means that, if we can get people to direct their visual attention to a person, product, or event, it will immediately seem more influential to them. People believe that, if they’ve paid special attention to an item, it must be influential enough to warrant that attention. But that’s not true because attention can be channeled to an item by factors unrelated to its significance, such as distinctive colors, which nonetheless increase observers’ estimation of the item’s significance.
Research: directing visual attention can influence perceptions.
I love the personal example you share about the geography of influence. When you wrote on campus, it was radically different than when you wrote at home. It immediately resonated with me, too, because I’ve seen styles change when writing at a courthouse, in a corporate office, or at home. Based on your research, to maximize effectiveness, what recommendations would you share?
When I began writing my first book for a general audience, I was on a leave of absence at a university other than my own. Of course, I filled my campus office there with my professional books, journals, articles, and files. In town, I’d leased an apartment and would try to work on the book from a desk there, too. But the environment around that desk was importantly different from that of my campus office–newspapers, magazines, tabletops, and television shows took the place of scientific publications, textbooks, filing cabinets, and conversations with colleagues.
Writing in those separate places produced an effect I didn’t anticipate and didn’t even notice: The work I’d done at home was miles better than what I’d done at the university because it was decidedly more appropriate for the general audience I’d envisioned. Surprised, I wondered how it could be that despite a clear grasp of my desired market, I couldn’t write for it properly while in my university office. Only in retrospect was the answer obvious. Anytime I lifted or turned my head, the sightlines from my on-campus desk brought me into contact with cues linked to an academic approach and its specialized vocabulary, grammar, and style of communication.
Research: what you say or do immediately before the appeal affects success.
It didn’t matter what I knew (somewhere in my head) about the traits and preferences of my intended readers. There were few cues in that environment to spur me to think routinely and automatically of those individuals as I wrote. From my desk at home, though, the cues were matched to the task. There, I could harmonize with my audience much more successfully. So here’s my recommendation for leaders: When writing for any particular audience—clients, colleagues, employees—put a photo of a typical member of the audience in the corner of your computer screen as you write. That photo will be an automatic, unconscious reminder of your audience and their communication styles, which will allow you to write in a way that is aligned with those styles. I do that regularly now, and it works for me.
Writing Tip: put a photo of a typical audience member on the corner of your screen.
This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.
The Power of Admitting A Mistake
Confucius said, “If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.” Yet, many times when a mistake is made, people try to pretend that it did not happen. They attempt to justify the wrong position or try to cover it up, which leads to additional mistakes. This situation reminds me of another quote — “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
“If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.” -Confucius
Quite often, more damage is done to credibility, relationships, trust and integrity by the actions taken after the original mistake. This is true in personal relationships and especially true when a leader makes a mistake. How many times have we seen high-profile people get prosecuted, not for the original crime, but for the attempt to cover it up by lying?