01 December 2019

Humble Leadership

"You changed the game, man."

--Coach John Harbaugh to his Baltimore Ravens star quarterback, Lamar Jackson.

Here's the rest of that sideline conversation during a 49-12 blowout of the Cincinnati Bengals ...

"And we're going to keep it going," Jackson said. 

Then comes this warm message from Coach Harbaugh:

"Do you know how many kids in this country are going to be wearing No. 8 playing quarterback for the next 20 years?"

Lamar Jackson, who became the first quarterback in National Football League history to throw at least 3,000 passing yards and rush for 1,500 yards in his first two NFL seasons, says with a measure of humility:

"I can't wait to see it when I get older, but right now I got to get to the Super Bowl."

The power of relationships

In their book, "Humble Leadership," father/son co-authors Edgar and Peter Schein, put a spotlight on the power of relationships, openness, and trust.   They turn away from a "superstar" concept and instead consider the positive outcomes when individuals learn and share for the greater good of the business.

Their idea is that a leadership process such as this can take place at any level, in any team or workgroup, in any meeting, and across all cultural boundaries.

Importantly, Schein's define leadership as "always a relationship where successful leadership thrives in a group culture of high openness and high trust."  

In that sense leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin, the book suggests.  

An unpretentious posture

I asked Edgar Schein if humbleness and humility are the same things.

"Our key point is that we don't think you have humility as a personality trait but as a situational feeling on the part of the would-be leader.  An appropriate response would be--'I don't know enough to solve this complex problem I am facing; I am in fact dependent on my direct reports and team members; therefore I must create a climate in which they will feel safe to speak up and collectively help to solve the problem.'"

Dr. Schein adds, "The goal is to know when leaders know enough to direct others and when they don't know enough, therefore seeking and accepting help."

Maybe organizations are ready for a "humble" approach as more than 1,300 CEOs have left their positions in 2019 according to executive placement firm, Challenger, Gray, and Christmas.  

Closer to home in Central Florida one of those CEO departures is Tricia Stitzel who is stepping down as Chair and CEO of Tupperware Brands.  Stitzel exits with a nearly $2 million severance and a $125,000 consultant deal even though Tupperware's stock has fallen 75% from the start of 2019 and November 26th. 


The Schein's introduce us to a new word, "personization," and define it as:

The process of mutually building a working relationship with fellow employees, teammates, bosses, subordinates, or colleagues based on trying to see that person as a whole, not just in a role that he or she may occupy at the moment.

In case you're worried about having to be too nice, relax.  The authors state that "personization is about building relationships that get the job done and that avoid the indifference, manipulation, or worse, lying and concealing that so often arise in the workplace."

Quoting from the book:  "We don't need to become friends and learn all about each other's  private lives but we have to learn to be open and honest around the work issues."

Is humble proven?

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Matthew Kassel says humble leaders do not always inspire confidence among financial analysts.  "While humble CEOs aren't any more or less capable than their brash peers, they tend to benefit from an "expectation discount," Kassel notes.  

This style of leadership doesn't appear strong at first but delivers better results, perhaps as much as a 7% increase in total return annually, according to recent studies on the subject.

More research is needed but there's something to be said about the positive track record of contemplative leadership.  

Maturity counts a lot

In finalizing the December Strategist Blog I watched the Baltimore Raven's run over the Los Angeles Rams 45-6 at the Coliseum on ESPN's Monday Night Football (25 November 2019).  On display was an exciting second-year quarterback building relationships around openness and trust.  
Image result for images of lamar jackson and teammates
Lamar Jackson and Ravens' teammates celebrate a win
over New England Patriots, 13 November 2019.
(C) Todd Olszewski/Getty Images
Lamar Jackson is dependent on his coaches, as well as a highly-skilled offensive and defensive roster.  They are more familiar with the in's and out's of professional football, and the toll a long season takes on everyone.  That explains the necessity of older talent in the mix.

The Ravens v. Rams game was a visible reminder that if Baltimore makes it to the Super Bowl in South Florida (Miami) in February 2020, it will be a combination of gameplan execution, staying healthy, and as the book concludes, "personal cooperation and trusting relationships; the kind that makes for friendships and effective teams." 

That effort is being led by a 22-year old quarterback from the University of Louisville who is providing confident, and humble leadership.


Update:  The Baltimore Ravens lost to the Tennessee Titans in the NFL playoffs 28 - 12.  Lamar Jackson said afterward--"We just beat ourselves. I had a lot of mistakes on my behalf.  Three turnovers.  That shouldn't happen."  


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