A powerful leadership tool

by: Ron Mader

When you teach, or take a course, do you ever put yourself either above or below others? Two of the most important qualities of creative leaders must have are humility and the ability to admit error. Doug Guthrie, in Creative Leadership: Humility and Being Wrong, writes,

We are frequently taught that leaders, especially aspiring leaders, should hide weaknesses and mistakes. This view is flawed. It is not only good to admit you are wrong when you are; but also it can also be a powerful tool for leaders—actually increasing legitimacy and, when practiced regularly, can help to build a culture that actually increases solidarity, innovation, openness to change and many other positive features of organizational life.

 Humility comes naturally to some people but usually it needs to be learned. So how do we teach and practice humility? We learn to be humble by consciously acknowledging not to think less of ourselves, but to think of ourselves less often. Here are some activities to practice.

  • Consciously get out of the way. Every teacher knows what this means, but most find it very difficult to put into practice. A coach was asked how the team could play so well. “I have great plays, a wonderful instrument, and excellent players. All I have to do is bring them together and get out of the way.”
  • Don’t make a scene over success and failure.  Provide feedback and assessment in ways that help learners act on success and failure as similar to a wind that comes and goes.  Humility is accepting success gratefully without fanfare.
  • Create a community of equals. When you are teaching work to break down the barriers that separate you from your learners, separate learners from each other, and separate both you and your learners from the outside world.
  • Create activities in ways where everyone is just as important as the other person.  Set ground rules where no one is more important that the other. When we recognize we are no more important than others, we take only what we need.

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