Lead with Humility is one of the ten Shingo Guiding Principles that is foundational to establishing culture at any organization. (It’s also one of the principles that my organization, Catalysis, espouses.) This principle is considered a cultural enabler, meaning it is critical for the success and sustainment of cultural change.
Throughout my career, I have strived to practice leading with humility. Here are some things that I do to work at becoming a better leader by leading with humility:
Seeking input from others is a great way to show humility as a leader. This shows those around you that you recognize that you do not have all the answers and that you realize that others have valuable (and often different) perspectives.
One example of seeking input is to “shop an A3 around,” especially while you are still on the left side gathering background information and working on developing the current state. Make sure that you include people with a vested interest in the problem so you can get an accurate picture of the situation, as well as some fresh eyes, to offer outside viewpoints.
Listen with the Intent to Understand
I find it very valuable to consciously consider whether I am listening to understand, or if I am just “waiting to talk” (as a previous coach of mine would say). To truly listen one must be focused on the speaker, what they are saying and how they are saying it, and not thinking about what they are planning to say next.
I think we have all found ourselves in situations where we are talking with someone, but we could tell that they were not really listening; perhaps they were thinking about the point they were going to make next. Perhaps this has even been you! (I know it’s been me at times!) This behavior can be detrimental to relationships and in turn, the culture of the organization.
Be Mindful of How You Ask Questions
Another thing that I do to practice leading with humility is to be mindful of the way I phrase questions. By this I mean a couple of things. I try to consider how a question or statement might be perceived before I say it, in both tone, language, and the setting in which the question is asked. Another is practicing Edgar Schein’s approach in his book Humble Inquiry, which to me at its most basic is asking open-ended questions to which I truly do not know the answer, even if I think I know the answer. One of the best places I’ve found to practice this is at home with my teenagers.
For example, my son plays high school football and is very focused on nutrition. He came home and announced that he is not getting enough protein in his diet. I could tell from the way he proclaimed this that this was a very big deal in his world. I had a feeling that he was getting the amount of protein he needs but telling him not to worry was not likely the response he needed (or would be receptive to). I wanted to ask him questions that would help him understand his current state, so I asked, “How do you know?” “I just have a feeling” was the response, so I followed up with “How can you determine how much protein you are actually getting?” These questions showed him that I was taking his concern seriously and willing to help.
Trust Others to Make good Decisions
As a leader it is important to remember that your way is not the only way to do something. Acknowledging this will go a long way in demonstrating humility. This will also enable the creative abilities of others in the organization.
In my role as chief engineer of our annual Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit, I “own” the Summit, but I do not “own” all the work that goes into it. My colleagues will take ownership of various aspects, and armed with the Summit guiding principles, will establish processes and outputs in ways that I might not have come up with.
Leading with humility is critical in establishing the culture of an organization. These behaviors don’t just apply to those within a defined leadership position. No matter where you sit you have a responsibility to lead with humility and ideally in turn be shown humility by others in the organization. It is not always easy; it takes dedication and mindful practice.
What stories or advice do you have for practicing leading with humility? Please share in the comments!
Rachel Regan, Program Director
Principle-Based Executive Coaching
Book: Humble Inquiry, by Edgar Schien