In typical style, I started a series and then got distracted!
Had some stuff to finish on the book (out soon) and then life happened… work was full on… but now I’m back!
The series I started was on the hallmarks of good leadership, comparing COCKS to CHICKENS!
As a reminder:
Chickens are values-led leaders who create the kind of cultures in which everyone gets to become their best self. Chickens create an environment where everyone keeps learning. I think these are the core values of CHICKEN leaders:
C – Curiosity
H – Humility
I – Inclusivity
C – Compassion
K – Kindness
E – Empowerment
N – Nourishment
We looked at Curiosity in the last blog, and so this time, we turn our attention to humility.
Humility is not insecurity. Humility is not weakness… Humility is a choice and one which I don’t make nearly often enough…
I often hear leaders described as having a ‘God Complex’ (a label given to megalomaniacal, narcissistic bosses – usually men). It means they are a bit of a Cock! But what if having a God-complex is not about wanting to rule over people but is instead about washing the feet of lepers and being the friend of the most ostracised in society? What does this mean for how we have historically understood and now understand leadership?
Humility is the recognition that who you are as a human being makes you no better and no worse than any other person. Rather, every other human being is your brother or your sister, never someone to be dehumanised, but rather innately valuable and worthy of love. You therefore do not view yourself more highly than you ought to, with haughty eyes which look down on others. You do not feel the need to constantly compare yourself with others or compete with those around you. You have no need to do or talk other people down to make yourself look or feel better. You have no need to use positional power to dominate others. You have no cause to puff yourself up to make others look and feel small.
To be humble is to listen deeply, to keep learning, to accept failure and see it as gift, to know you still have inner work to do, to be able to say sorry, to be able to forgive, to be willing to change, to keep growing. To be humble is to prefer others and make space for them to thrive, to keep serving, to be misunderstood and have no need to promote yourself.
Humility is, I believe, one of the most important but least celebrated qualities of good leadership. Why? Because humility provides the conditions in which we can take stock of where we are and be willing to unlearn and let go of what got us here in order to get to where we need to be.
In his excellent book, Theory U, Otto Scharmer explores how the most ‘successful’ companies in the world are good at recognising that when they reach a certain point, they cannot get to where they want to be without embracing humility and deep listening.
I believe we are at such a point in the NHS and wider public sector, here in the UK. We have reached something of a precipice. There are insufficient funds, staffing shortages (due to retention and recruitment issues), a widening health inequity gap, a lack of preventative services, low staff morale, high burnout rates, major infrastructure problems, growing patient waiting times, public dissatisfaction and huge gaps in social care provision. And so, we cannot simply build a bridge across the deep ravine before us.
No. Humility accepts the reality of where we are and is willing to do some deep listening. We must listen to the painful truths of how many people in our communities are living. We must recognise the dual challenges of climate change and social injustice. And we must sit in the pain of this reality long enough for us to embrace the truth that our ‘go to’ methods of how to fix things are no longer able to cut it. We can’t stick hundreds of improvement projects onto the cracks and hope that it will be enough. Slashing services and rearranging our current models into ever more lean and joyless ‘models of care’ will never create the kind of wellbeing we long for together.
Instead, we must listen to what actually matters to our communities. We must learn to recognise the power and potential they hold. And together with them, we must co-create a future which enables our communities to thrive and our ecology to regenerate. It is the only way to tackle our financial deficit whilst also changing the inequities in our society.
People of humility know that this is only possible through radical participative communities, in which everyone gets to contribute and play their part. Where radical relationships across lines of difference allow us to embrace new solutions together. What humility does is to allow the heroes to stop trying to lead people up the next mountain, and instead to recognise that the mountains and the valleys need levelling out into a fair playing field for everyone. Humility gives birth to hope that there really might be a future for us that is altogether more beautiful than our current divisive hell… but that requires the ability to become like little children… because they are the ones who know the way… but only the humble will listen to them and let them show us.