Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
August 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Fearless Humility

Character has been described as who we are when you get to the core. Who you are affects what you do. This is why all great leadership is built on character. While there are many characteristics that define great leaders, I'll devote this instalment to one of the most powerful – humility.

Humility is often misunderstood. We often think of it as self-deprecation; it is not. In his bestseller, Good to Great, Jim Collins wrote, "Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless." We don't always put humble and fearless in the same sentence but I think Collins got it right. Teams reward these types of leaders with loyalty. They have a way of lifting humble leaders up and bringing prideful self-centred leaders down. They don't want to disappoint humble leaders.

Humble leaders don't see themselves as greater than others, but as one member of a team with many other members – they don't need to be the centre of the show. As leaders they have power, but they always use it in the service of the mission and the team – never selfishly.

In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren writes, "This is true humility; not thinking less of ourselves but thinking of ourselves less." Humble leaders focus on the team and its mission not on what they can take from leadership – their focus is outward.

It's also common to see ambition and humility as opposites. They are not. They are comfortable partners. Humility makes ambition unselfish and powerful. While prideful self-centred leaders see admitting mistakes as a sign of weakness, humble leaders see it as a sign of strength. Admitting and learning from mistakes make leaders more approachable, more honest, and it connects them to the people they lead.

In his book Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet, Hugh Dempsey paints the portrait of one of the west's great leaders, "Crowfoot was chief of the Blackfoot Nation in Southern Alberta during a twenty-year period which saw the disappearance of buffalo herds, the signing of treaties, starvation, rebellion, and the beginning of a new kind of life under the yoke of the white man." There are few examples in history when an entire way of life disappeared so traumatically. Born into the Blood tribe in 1830, Crowfoot grew up a fearless warrior.

Just imagine the conflict he must have felt as he faced the unavoidable choice between the annihilation of his people and cooperating with the invaders. Every fibre within him must have cried out to fight, but in stark contrast to most of his contemporaries, he put the warrior aside. He transformed himself into a skilled diplomat. He became the leading ambassador for his people and was among the first to learn to farm. He was instrumental in the survival of his people through the period of Treaty Seven.

Crowfoot's humility enabled him to put personal interests aside and do what his people needed him to do. His love for his people transformed him, from warrior to diplomat. Crowfoot was the very personification of fearless humility. Leaders like him always put the mission and team first. Their focus is outward. If you are to build a high performance team, you and the members of your entire leadership team will lead from humility.

Looking for more on the character of leadership, check out part one of my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders, available in soft cover and in all e-book formats.

Discussion questions:

  1. When was the last time you faced a choice between what you might have preferred and what was best for the team and its mission?
  2. Thinking about a selfish leader you have known, how did the team respond?
  3. Which other right actions might be enabled by humility?

To go deeper on leadership call or write about a half day workshop or a keynote address.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
August 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor


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The Big Question, September 2016

Risky Business, March 2016

Mentoring in the Moment, January 2016

Sacrificial Leadership, December 2015

5 Tactics For Better Meetings, November 2015

Leader as Follower, October 2015

Dynamic Balance, September 2015

Fearless Humility, August 2015

Fear and Accountability, July 2015

Building a Feedback Culture, June 2015

Fostering Accountability, May 2015

Confront or Avoid?, Apr. 2015

The Heart of Accountability, Mar. 2015

Powerful Ambition, Feb. 2015

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Ralphie and the Strategic Approach, Dec. 2014

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