By: LeAnn Nickelsen, M.Ed and Joel Nickelsen, MBA, Founder, BrightOrg Services
Research About Humility
Can the trait of humility actually help the whole organization (school or business) grow? In one study, leaders viewed the following three behaviors as being powerful predictors of growth of an organization.
“Leaders of all ranks view admitting mistakes, spotlighting follower strengths, and modeling teachability as being at the core of humble leadership.”Bradley Owens, assistant professor of Organization and Human Resources at the University at Buffalo School of Management.
Owens and co-author David Hekman, assistant professor of management at the Lubar School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, asked 16 CEOs, 20 mid-level leaders, and 19 front-line leaders to describe in detail how leaders with humility operate in the workplace and behave differently than a “non-humble” leader. They all concluded that humble leadership involves modeling to the followers how to grow.
“Growing and learning often involves failure and can be embarrassing. But leaders who can overcome their fears and broadcast their feelings as they work through the messy internal growth process will be viewed more favorably by their followers. They also will legitimize their followers’ own growth journeys and will have higher-performing organizations.”Bradley Owens
Understanding these qualities of humility and implementing them through school principals, superintendents, or other educational leaders can truly help the whole school grow in tremendous ways. Many schools are concerned about achieving new and higher standards when achievement was not even made against the previous standards. As leaders, we should emulate humility by being open and honest with the journey ahead. Everyone in that building or district should create goals to grow, get assistance from coaches in the building to reach those goals, hold each other accountable, and continue to learn to solve the problems ahead. More than ever, leaders in schools will need to display humility and ask the whole building to create ideas and plans for high student achievement and solutions to the obstacles in their way. To take the trait of humility to the next level, the Good to Great model can guide us.
Blending Humility with Other Leadership Factors
It has been over a decade since the Good To Great (Collins, 2001) research project and subsequent book was published by Jim Collins and his team. For many of us, their work had a tremendous impact on our view of what it takes to build a great company and to lead one (and by inference, a school). One of the most striking findings was that all of the Good To Great companies had a leader during their crucial “time of transition” who was a “Level 5” leader. This is such a compelling fact, that it encourages us to reflect on the core characteristics of these Level 5 leaders and apply them to school leadership.
Collins described a Level 5 leader as the combination of Professional Will and Personal Humility, with this synopsis of the characteristics:
- Creates superb results, a catalyst for transitioning from good to great
- Resolves to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results
- Sets high standards and never settles for less
- Looks in the mirror, not outside, when faced with poor results
- Demonstrates a compelling modesty, never boastful
- Acts with calm determination, relies on principal standards more than charisma to motivate
- Channels ambition into the company and sets up successors for greater success
- Looks out the window, not in the mirror, when apportioning credit for success
- Which column presents the most opportunity for personal growth? What one item above, if added to my leadership capability, might catapult my organization or school forward … from good to great?
- Do I show sincere interest in others? Am I someone who looks others in the eyes and listens carefully, like they are explaining the most important things in the world? Do I engage and ask meaningful questions, so that the other person knows that I understand how they feel?
- How often do I praise others? Can I dedicate weekly time to point out the good others do – at home and work? It is amazing how quickly this can become part of your leadership. Do I give credit to the “foot soldiers” who do the heavy lifting that leads to results and contribute to a positive, clean, learning culture?
- Do I have a plan for my own personal growth? Do I share it with my team and organization? Do I keep these goals on the forefront of my mind and revisit them daily so that I truly can be the best that I can be?
- Do I ever ask my stakeholders, team members, other followers of the organization, or school for feedback? Do I take it seriously and try to change the factors that can be changed? Rather than get defensive, do I take the time to seriously consider how to improve myself based on their feedback?