Some people will think that “humble leadership” is a contradiction in terms.
The stereotype that some have about a “leader” is that they are all about themselves, self-absorbed, and boastful.
While there are certainly leaders like that, many of us don’t believe that it is what “true” leadership is all about.
Jim Collins called it “Level 5” leadership in his excellent book, Good to Great.
Robert Greenleaf coined the term Servant Leadership in his book by that title.
Ed & Peter Schein wrote a book entitled Humble Leadership which they say is all about relationships, openness, and trust.
And recently, the term “Minimalist Leader” is being used. In his recent article in Harvard Business Review, Frank Martela says that Minimalist Leaders: “let employees shine, put the good of the company above their own egos, and ultimately build stronger and more innovative businesses.”
Following are some of his suggestions on how one can be a Minimalist Leader:
*Establish a clear, shared vision. Engage everyone and make sure that they feel they have a real voice in vision-setting. Implementation will be faster if you take the time up front to get clear on direction.
*Teach employees to think like a CEO. When people bring you issues or problems, explain the process you would use to make a decision – and then let them make it. Over time, they will bring fewer and fewer issues to you.
*Balance freedom with clear boundaries. No one else – but the CEO (with Board support) – should be able to bankrupt the organization. Start with that as the clearest boundary and then start working your way back. Err on the side of freedom – as long as people cannot produce irrevocable harm.
*Replace control with trust. Let people make mistakes – so long as they stay in their boundaries. Support them. They will learn, they will get better, and will be more empowered.
The illusion that we can control an entire organization and dictate every action is intoxicating to some leaders. This egocentric view does not work. Try humility. It works and it actually leads to an enhanced Mission Impact.
*Ideas for this blog taken from: Martela, F. “The Outsized Benefits of ‘Minimalist’ Leadership,” Harvard Business Review online, December 18, 2023.