Humble Leadership by Ed & Peter Schein

Back in 2018, the Scheins proposed this leadership model as a way of evolving managerial culture. It was then urgent; now, it is more so. Part of the Humble Leadership Series that includes “Humble Inquiry” and “Humble Consulting”, this book is a timely call-for-action for professionals, especially senior managment, to practise and role model “humble” behaviours, like being curious and asking, listening, and getting more personal and vulnerable.

Embracing the “power of relationships, high openness and high trust”, this relational approach to leadership isn’t meant to replace others, like the “servant” model, but to connect them, almost like the glue. Instead of the traditional concept of the leader as visionary solo hero, battling within an individualistic, competitive organisational culture, the Scheins ask us to consider leadership as “the energy shared in a group that is accomplishing something new and better”. It’s a dynamic, interactive process linking individuals, required to build resilience, adaptability and creative thinking. I love this!

Helpful is the framework of levels outlining how work relationships evolve from coercive and exploitative, to transactional and role-based, to becoming more trust-based, personal and cooperative. It’s the latter we need now to deal with uncertainty, complexity – and survival.

I disagree partly with the Scheins that how we relate at work is a question of choice. As I see it, it’s more about capacity – our skill in building healthy personal relations in whatever context.

It would also be interesting to explore differences in approach to relationship-building across national culture, as well as data on cases of burnout. Not surprisingly, research suggests there is less burnout among doctors who have strong work relationships.

Given the extent of untapped creative energy and potential in organisations, there’s much work to be done. I agree there can be too much impersonal, schedule-dominated role-playing that keeps others at arms’ length, requiring minimum emotional investment. While the exemplary cases provided from healthcare, politics and the military are encouraging, it seemed a bit sad to include basic advice on how to get to know colleagues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *