“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” — Thomas Merton
Pope Francis was awarded the top spot on Fortune’s 2014 list of the World’s Greatest Leaders.
Pope Francis was able to breathe life into an aging institution, reinvigorate a global base of people around the world, refocus attention on core values, and create a new image for one of the most visible leadership positions on Earth.
He didn’t strong-arm his way to the top.
Instead, he used humility.
Pope Francis used humility as a strength to be a more compassionate, authentic, and effective leader.
Humility can be your greatest source of strength.
You can use humility to connect with people in an authentic way, stay open to learning, and follow a path of growth and service to others.
In Lead with Humility: 12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis, Jeffrey Krames shows how you can use humility as a source of strength, and apply the same principles that Pope Francis uses change the world, to change your workplace.
What is Humility?
To lead with humility, it helps to really understand what humility means. These are a few of my favorite definitions of humility from the dictionary:
- “Someone who knows they are not perfect.”
- “Modest without an excess of pride.”
- “Not having or showing any feelings of superiority, self-assertiveness, or showiness.”
I also really like how Dr. Matt James put it long ago:
“Humility is not about being self-critical or self-deprecating. Humility doesn’t mean that you are down on yourself or think that you are less worthy than others. Instead, it is that quiet confidence that doesn’t require bragging or boasting. You are confident in yourself, your talents and your skills, but you don’t go around showing off or trying to gain others’ approval or applause.”
I also like how Dr. Paul Jenkins defines humility:
“I think humility is giving up our need to be right in exchange for being open.”
Dr. Jenkins uses this definition of humility in the context of how to apologize when you’re not wrong.
He combines the idea of humility with two other ideas so that you are able to apologize for your impact on others, even when you were not wrong and had good intentions:
- One idea is from a wise friend who shared her best advice in life: “Don’t be too quick to believe everything you think.”
- And he combined it with advice from Rick De Bruyle: “We need to assume that we don’t have all of the information.”
Don’t confuse humility with “false humility” which is pride in disguise.
As Randy Conley describes it:
“False humility is when you intentionally devalue ourselves or our contributions in an attempt to appear humble. Examples of false humility include deflecting praise we truly deserve, fishing for compliments to draw attention to ourselves, “humble-bragging” (talking about how humble we are), falsely portraying helplessness or a lack of power, and self-deprecating humor.”
Conley notes that Dr. Aqualus Gordon points out that false humility can be the manifestation of an inferiority complex.
Monk Radhanath Swami distinguishes between an inferiority complex and humility like this:
“An inferiority complex is when the (false) ego is frustrated; whereas, humility is when the (false) ego is rejected.”
As he explains it, inferiority is about appearances. In a society that glamorizes humility, the enactment of humility becomes more important than a true embodiment of it.
1. Reinvent Your Organization
Don’t change your organization. Reinvent it.
“If your organization is in need of Franciscan reinvention, what steps can you take to turn things around? Always start with people and structure. Do you have the right people, and are they placed in the right positions? Does the structure of your organization maximize productivity, or are there places for improvement?
If you are a leader who hires other leaders, consider hiring an outsider–someone not mired in the years and mistakes of your organization’s past, who has no allergies to silos or office politics. Francis was the first Jesuit pope, the first South American pope, and at his election was considered an outsider to the ways of the Vatican.”
2. Don’t Judge—Assess
Judging won’t get you anywhere fast. If anything, it will disconnect you from the people and information you need to be more effective.
“If you lead people, you must assess a great number of constituencies, from bosses to suppliers, and then to customers. The most important assessments, however, are those you make of your direct reports. They count on you for an honest and direct assessment on a regular basis, and they deserve no less. We are all familiar with performance reviews, but the most effective leaders to not wait for that once-a-year ritual; instead, they make a habit of assessing people and discussing that assessment with the individual on a regular basis, in both formal and informal situations. And it is important, says Francis, not to deliver a monologue when speaking with your people and to take into account the changing nature of our culture.”
3. We Need a New Way of Saying Things
If you’re over-polished or too formal, you won’t connect with today’s generation.
“’Dialogue must be serious, without fear, and sincere,’ Francis told interview Antonio Spadaor. ‘It is important to recall that the language of young people in formation today is different from that in the past,’ said Francis. He added, ‘Those who work with youth can not be content with simply saying things that are too tidy and structured, as in a tract; these things go in one ear and out the other of young people. We need a new language, a new way of saying things.”
4. Leave No One Behind
More people will stand with you, if you commit that you will not leave anybody behind.
“Six months after he became pope, Francis said very directly that he does not see the Church as only for the purest among us; he sees the Church as a ‘home for all.’ He declared that the Church should not a be a ‘small chapel focused on doctrine, orthodoxy, and a limited agenda of moral teachings.’ His goal is a lofty one. Leave no one behind.
As a result of the still-recovering global economy, most corporations and other organizations have learned to do more with fewer people. This is why world employment figures are down in most countries, most notably in European countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain, where unemployment rates are an eye-popping 25 percent, and twice that for younger demographic groups.
As a result, today’s companies are far leaner than they were just a decade ago. Therefore, you must make sure that every person you are responsible for in your organization is a high-level performer. In order to achieve that, your people need as much information as possible. For example, in the publishing world, I know of several companies that include assistants in every publishing meeting. This has multiple advantages: First, it makes everyone feel included, which helps with morale. At the same time, it further educates these assistants in the business of book publishing, which makes it far more likely that at least some of them will earn promotions down the line. Last, it provides the leaders of the organizations with viewpoints that they would never have in a closed-off, ‘managers only’ meeting. CEO’s and other top managers should also reach out to the members of the organization at the lowest level of the hierarchy, so boardroom strategizing isn’t divorced from showroom work.”
5. Pay Attention to Noncustomers
Your noncustomers are your potential future customers.
“Peter Drucker called potential customers noncustomers. It was Drucker who said that 90 percent of the information gathered by any institution comes from inside the organization. That is where most organizations get it wrong, explained Drucker; they need to look outside–for example, to the marketplace–where the most important things happen.
Drucker explained, ‘Increasingly, a winning strategy will require information about events and conditions outside the institution; noncustomers, technologies other than those that are currently used by the company and present competitors, markets not currently served, and so on.’
Drucker has written much about the importance of describing one’s customers; however, in his forty-plus books, and in other venues, he has also spoken of the importance of noncustomers. ‘The first signs of fundamental change rarely appear within one’s own organization or among one’s customers,’ he said. Instead, it is the people who are not buying your products or services who will ‘almost always’ expose the changes that will soon affect your own institution in profound ways.”
6. We Have to Battle Our Natural Biases and Inner Conflicts
We all have our blind spots and biases. And we have to deal with them every day in on an ongoing basis. And with time, we’ll get better at managing them. Self-awareness helps us start the process for improvement.
“Many of the key obstacles in Francis’s life came before he was pope; Bergoglio’s considerable leadership skills were born out of a life of inner struggles. Bergoglio was 76 years old when he was elected pope. For a society that is, in large part, built for youth, he is an elder statesman. Few of us, if any , in any country, are able to land such an impressive and impactful position at that age. People are usually retired by 75 (if not 65) . Yet for his many years, and even though Francis is a man of great wisdom, he still has to battle, for lack of a better phrase, his natural biases, and inner conflicts.
Paul Vellely revels the complexity and paradox of Pople Francis. “Jorge Mario Bergoglio is a doctrinal traditionalist but an ecclesiastical reformer. He is a radical but not a liberal He seeks to empower others and yet retains a streak of authoritarianism. He is a conservative yet was on the far left of his nation’s reactionary Bisho’s Conference. He combines religious simplicity with political guile. He is progressive and open yet austere and sever … He is a teacher of theology, but a pastor with the common touch. In him, humility and power come together.’
This three-dimensional portrait is what makes Francis so compelling. He is like us–capable of complexity and nuance, and has had to overcome obstacles to get to where he is today.”
7. Make Decisions that Advance Your Strategy
Think about your big picture when you make decisions that matter. Even the little decisions will add up over time. Make them add up to something that aligns with your vision.
“Pope Francis has made a number of statements and decisions geared to advance his goal of making the Catholic Church a far more accepting situation. When making any decision, take the time to think through the various outcomes. Is this a decision that harmonizes with my strategic plan? If not, you may want to hold off and think through a number of alternative scenarios. Furthermore, understand the optics of your decision making. Ask yourself what the decision will say. If you don’t know, seek feedback from people you trust.”
8. Get Everyone Reading from the Same Sheet of Music
Just getting people on the same page can go a long way to partnerships and collaboration. It helps build a shared vision of the future, so everybody can work towards something. Together.
“Eliminate insularity within your own organization. This is a very important imperative. It is bad enough to be too inward looking and not know what is happening in the outside world and the markets in which your firm operates. It may be worse for departments within your organization to be so insular that your people don’t even know what their colleagues down the hall are doing. We have all heard stories of friction and turf wars between departments in an organization, such as sales and marketing or marketing and manufacturing. In years past, these inward-looking divisions have been called silos.
To help prevent silo-like thinking and behavior in your firm, host informal lunches that bring two or more departments together. Follow that up with off-site meetings involving key players from all departments. Remember the key is getting all of your people on the same page, reading off the same ‘sheet of music.’
Giving all of your people a greater understanding of what their colleagues contribute to the organization is your best chance of eliminating inward-focused insularity.”
9. To Eliminate Not-Invented-Here, Encourage Managers and Employees to Find a Better Way
Focus on finding a better solution and people will get more resourceful and creative.
“Look to the future for solutions. To avoid a static and inward-direct view of things, let go of the past, and avoid perpetuating Not-Invented Here syndrome.
In many organizations, people hear that competitor X does things so much better than we do. While I am in no way suggesting that people steal company secrets, you must ask your people to improve in their best practices. For example, consider how smartphones moved almost exclusively to touch screens immediately following the release of the iPhone. With today’s web and other technologies it is much easier to find out what your rivals are doing, and how they are doing it. Francis said, ‘… those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists…have a static and inward-directed view of things.’ Do not reach back to the past for ideas that worked for your company. Today’s world changes at such a rapid pace that now you must look to the future for solutions.”
10. We All Have Virtues, Qualities, and Greatness
There’s greatness and potential in all of us.
“This s the heart of Francis on full display. And you do not have to be a practicing Christian, or even believe in God, to be great argues Bergoglio. ‘I know more agnostic people than atheists; the first are more uncertain, the second are more convinced. Every man is the image of God, whether he is a believer or not. For that reason alone everyone has a series of virtues, qualities, and a greatness of his own. If he has some vileness, as I do, we can share that in order to mutually help on another and overcome it.’”
Get the Book
You can use humility as a source of personal strength to connect with people in an authentic way, stay open to learning, and follow a path of growth and service to others:
Lead with Humility: 12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis by Jeffrey Krames (Amazon)
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