This article originally appeard on LinkedIn.
The events of the past week have rocked the United States and the world, deepening our feelings of uncertainty and worry. The theme of the final newsletter of 2020, “To Be Great, Be Humble,” seems even more important today. The piece was my contribution to LinkedIn’s #BigIdeas2021 campaign, and I’m grateful to the editors for highlighting it as their idea of the day earlier this week.
The crux of the argument is that servant leadership in business cannot work without humility. “Absent humility, employees up and down the organization simply won’t prioritize or process feedback, and without that employee commitment, innovation withers, and so does upgrading of the customer experience,” I wrote.
Ask the CEOs of the most successful companies what they worry about and you’ll find that, even more than external risks, they fear enemies from within their organizations: greed, arrogance, complacency and entitlement. All represent the failure to be humble.
The importance of humility echoes in a recent piece by Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, “The Politics of Humility.” It discusses former Massachusetts governor and current senator from Utah (and onetime Bain partner) Mitt Romney and his actions through the Capitol crisis.
Humility is an element of moral leadership. In my colleague Dave Michels’s recent column for Forbes, “The Return of Moral Leadership,” he reflects on an increasing appreciation and recognition of leadership characterized by empathy, kindness, equity, inclusion and responsibility―citing examples from New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to the C-suites of global corporations. He quotes a former CEO who explains that “the work of a leader is to define reality and give hope.” That hope must be matched with an honest assessment of reality—leveling with people about what is really going on—and with transparency, integrity and trust.
There is a lesson in all this, he notes, not only for society but also for all of us as individuals—a reminder to bring integrity, respect and empathy to the forefront, whether in the public or private sector, in our jobs or in our neighborhoods. I couldn’t agree more.