Back in January, I posed a question around what the role of humility was in organizational transformation, especially when organizations are being disrupted at an exponential pace. Many of you replied, emailed or reached out to share your own experiences of how humility in leadership was an essential ingredient to reinvention. Several of you shared stories of how humility was glaringly absent in your own organizations, and a few of you emphasized how you saw leaders getting trapped in thinking incumbency leads to permanency, and acting with blinders on, making your organization more susceptible to disruption. On the other end of the spectrum, especially for some of you based in Asia, you cautioned about the over-use of humility, and how that must be balanced with positive self-belief, agency and courage to take a leap in the face of disruption. As with many things in life and business, it was a paradox to be managed. For all your insights, reflections, and stories, I am immensely grateful.
The winds at London’s Heathrow Airport were gusting at 50 mph, and the jet way swayed violently as we embarked onto the plane, much like a ship being tossed to and fro in a storm surge. Losing my footing momentarily, I wondered about the wisdom of departing in these high winds. Suddenly my phone rang, and as I chatted quickly with my partner, a former Navy officer with flight training, he reminded me that not only are the pilots trained to handle such conditions, but it’s exactly what they live for – interesting challenges that autopilot doesn’t offer any longer. Discomfort, I recalled, is when we come alive. Too much comfort can lull us into mediocrity.
“Stagnate and die” is the bumper sticker designed to compel bold risk-taking and change. It's the innovator’s cry to push the envelope, the CEO’s edgy opening call to action when the organization is threatened with disruption, the parent’s late night lecture to a wayward twenty-something.
Messiness gets a bad rap. In many ways, I live the mantra that organized = good, messy = bad. But life and work without messiness is excellence unrealized. If we want to create something new or lead our business or ourselves forward on a different path, messiness is a natural part of the equation.
Listening to the leader address his people in a loud display of bravado, heroics and overly simplified descriptions of the competitive threat at hand, I sighed. What the leader was trying to project was strength, clarity and an “I’ve got this” air of confidence. What was missing, besides a more poetic, inspirational call to action, was a dose of humility needed to question whether the well-trodden path to success they had been on for literally hundreds of years could use a little reflection and reinvention.
Watching the dialogue around Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as 45th President of the United States unfold globally over the past few weeks, one thing is clear: Millions of people are grappling with the impact of disruption at a geo-political, social, organizational and individual level and seem to be un-anchored in the face of extreme ambiguity. Beyond the protests and commentary, there is an underlying cry of concern around how we will create positive outcomes in the face of disruption.
Years ago, perched prominently above the stacks of work in my grey, florescent lit cubby hole in a Manhattan skyscraper, were Eleanor Roosevelt’s words printed on bright blue paper and framed with care: You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.... You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
The executive on the other end of the phone sighed loudly. It’s been an intense week, he confessed. There are two extreme positions on the community issue that I told you about last time, and interestingly, both sides seek the same ultimate outcome. But they cannot see the value in the other side. They are polarized and I find myself in the middle, creating a coalition of some very interesting bedfellows.
I geek out on Brené Brown from time to time. The author of Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and the incredibly authentic speaker who gave one of the most-watched TED talks ever, “The Power of Vulnerability”, speaks to my heart and soul, and backs it up with great research that satisfies my head.
I sat quietly listening to the group of leaders describe the impending threats to their business in the shifting global marketplace, and how several start-up firms in emerging markets were actively disrupting the legacy business models…