Archive for the ‘servant-leadership’ Category

Hubris or humility?  Which “h” word influences your leadership style?

At work this week we had a discussion with senior managers about diversity and inclusion, based on Peggy McIntosh’s article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack Take a minute to click that hyperlink and check out her article…I’ll wait.

McIntosh discusses a corollary of racism: white privilege.  She realized that just by being white, she had certain privileges, many of which aren’t obvious without a certain amount of awareness and introspection.   In fact, she argued, whites are taught not to recognize our privileges.  Do you agree with her assertion?  If you’re white, have you ever noticed that the color of your skin gave you an advantage?  This is different from realizing that minorities sometimes face disadvantages because of their skin color.

What our discussion at work unearthed was the realization that a lot of the privileges on McIntosh’s list (if not all) were things that we consciously knew were unfair, unethical, or immoral.  But here’s the key: do you recognize when you’re benefiting from an advantage, whether it’s because of your skin color, your gender, or your religion?  If you do recognize it, are you doing anything about it?

One leader had a particularly astute observation.  He suggested that McIntosh’s list exist because of hubris.  In the field of organizational development, this is similar to the concept of self-embededness.  Both terms basically reflect an inward, self-centeredness.  So, he argued, humility was the key to breaking down the wall these privileges supported.

 What do you think about that?  I think it’s a really introspective thought.  This leader really “got” McIntosh’s message and was beginning to internalize it in the short time we had a discussion.  Think about this.  Hubris causes you to think of yourself, first.  This was the characteristic that brought down heroes of Greek tragedies, because the hubris grew bigger than them.  If you are focused inward, you will only notice when the world is being “unfair” and will conveniently ignore times that everything is “falling into place” without much effort.  Humility, on the other hand, suggests an outward focus.  If you’re humble, you elevate others before yourself.  You think of other people first, and put their interests at the top. 

So what does this say about diversity and inclusion principles?  Perhaps if you’re focused on others, you will notice things like the privileges McIntosh discussed.  Perhaps if you’re focused on others you won’t allow discrimination or unfair treatment to continue.  Your efforts will go toward ensuring that other people have an easier time navigating through life.

This is a powerful message in terms of your leadership practices.  Are you so self-embedded that “your” way is the “right” or “only” way?  Or are you practicing servant-leadership (more on that in a future post) and thinking of others, first?  Think about how your employees will react to a change in policy, based on their perspective and life experiences, not your own.  Try to think of their frame of reference and put yourself in it. 

This is the only way that you will be able to create a diverse and inclusive environment in your work group.  If you understand that your experiences are just one example of how a person’s life can play out, then you’ll have an easier time stepping outside of that experience to learn about others’ lives.  When you do that, you’re showing respect and appreciation for your employees; you’re being diverse.  This mindset allows you to overlap your subconscious actions or thoughts with your conscious mind that tells you something is wrong.  Instead of intellectually knowing discrimination is wrong but silently allowing it to continue to happen, you will be building credibility by melding action with word and thought.

What are you doing to make sure you encourage diversity and inclusion in your work group?  Are you acting with humility, or hubris?


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I thought it only appropriate that my first “real” blog entry be on Father’s Day. Often our parents are the first role models we have for leadership. Good our bad, our leadership styles are shaped by our parents’. In fact, I argue that the most important role of a parent is to be a servant-leader for his children. Larry Spears wrote about ten characteristics of a servant-leader, all of which can be extrapolated to influence how we look at parenting. In honor of Father’s Day, I want to focus on three of those characteristics as they relate to my own father.

Parents and servant-leaders need to be good listeners. A lot of my childhood memories involve leaning against the doorway in my father’s home office, talking to him about what I was learning in science or how we had a particularly difficult sprinting practice in track and field. What I remember most is my rambling and his attentive and intent listening to what I had to say. I don’t know that I was saying anything too earth-shattering or interesting, but to my father it was important because it helped him get to know my perspectives and interests. Servant-leaders are great listeners not only because they’re committed to listening but because they are attentive. Larry Spears said that they “listen receptively to what is being said (and not said!)” and seek to clarify the will of a group. How often do we really listen to others? Do we really seek to understand them or are we merely hearing their words, waiting for the pause to insert our own?

Parents and servant-leaders need to be committed to the growth of people. My father always pushed me to become a better person and set the bar higher with each victory. I played soccer when I was younger; my father was an active cheerleader throughout that time. After each soccer game we would be in the car, talking about the game and what I had done – as well as what I could focus on next time to get better. Granted, I wasn’t always very receptive of this advice, but I internalized it and worked harder to be my own version of Mia Hamm. This push to be better was not because my father was disappointed in my performance; on the contrary, it was because he saw what I could become and was intent on helping me get there. He saw what I couldn’t yet see. In organizations, sometimes our leaders ask us to take on roles we’re not really interested in. But often we learn a little bit more about ourselves from those assignments. As leaders ourselves, we need to make sure we’re listening to our employees and really peeling back the layers of the onion to see who they truly are. It’s our responsibility as leaders to help our employees grow. Robert Greenleaf (link), the leader who coined the term servant-leadership, said that the best test of servant leadership is whether or not those served grow as people. Are we helping others become better versions of themselves? Or are we putting them in roles that will benefit us more than them?

Parents and servant-leaders must build community. To me, this means having a focus on family. One of my strongest personal values is the importance of family; I inherited that from both of my parents. My father came from a big family and I was (still am!) lucky enough to have many opportunities to interact with others who were like me and unlike me. My father modeled the importance of community to me by the way he interacted with and respected his family. He helped his parents with the farm chores when we visited, he encouraged imagination and creativity with his nieces and nephews by building hay forts in the barn, and he took great joy in teasing others (no taking yourself too seriously around him!). This same kind of community needs to be present in organizations. Servant-leaders need to build camaraderie with their employees by encouraging laughter, imagination and selflessness. What is it that all these very different people have in common? May it be a shared vision, goal or value, it is the job of the servant-leader to find that common thread and show the way toward collaboration and community. How well do you build community with your work groups? What about outside of work?

So to all the dads out there, happy father’s day. And to all the leaders – look to your father’s example to see how you can become a better leader! There’s a lot we can learn about leadership from parenting – what has your father taught you about leading?

Reference: Spears, L.C. (2003). Introduction: Understanding the growing impact of servant-leadership. In Beazley, H., Beggs, J. & Spears, L.C. (Eds.), The servant-leader within: A transformative path. (pp.13-27). Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

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