Isaac Newton, the great scientist said in 1672:
· “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”
That phrase encapsulates my contention that the most important facets of leadership are a measure of humility and of the need constantly to learn.
This may seem somewhat at odds with the conventional view of a leader; strong, confident, assertive, dedicated and far-sighted. That indeed they generally are but underneath there is invariably a level of uncertainty. In fact I have frequently said that under that confident exterior there lies a bubbling mass of insecurity.
Perhaps this is overstating the position but the generality is valid.
On the other hand I recall going to see a client who said to me:
“I am concerned – I am beginning to have certainties”
Again this might seem the normal attitude of a confident leader but he was genuinely concerned simply because he felt that he had so much more to learn in his role.
And that confirms the assertion that humility is a necessary facet of great leadership. The tyrants last for a while but eventually meet their just end whereas those who understand that they still need to learn will always win in the end.
A wise sage once said:
· “The people want me to be their leader. I must follow them”
In my role as a Chairman of Chief Executive groups in Vistage International, I have had the experience on several occasions of a potential member saying that he/she just needs to run the idea past the Chairman pr even the Board.
In so many cases the answer is “No, we appointed you because you have the skills to do it so why and what do you need to learn?”
The bald fact is that we don’t know everything, we need constantly to be learning, we need to acquire new skills and we need to understand that all of that is a vital part of the role.
When we are speaking we are transmitting our knowledge but when we are silent we are or should be learning.
The acceptance of that need demands humility because it says that we are not infallible, we don’t know everything and we need constantly be learning from everyone we meet, because everyone has something to offer which is new to us.
In the long list of requirements for leadership, among all the tough qualities needed, I believe that humility should be well represented and understood.
We all have certainties from time to time, some more than others. It will be those who question them, take note of others opinions and change are the ones who will prosper.
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