What does Humility have to do with Leadership?


I was recently asked a huge question by a leading global organisation

– Q How do we cultivate greater humility among our leadership ranks?

Albert Einstein supposedly said “the release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one.” I think the same can be said about technology. It has not created a new problem within humanity, it has exposed existing human problems. This post is an idea, my attempt on how we might address this question and the human problem at the heart of the current state of Leadership.

There is a battle being fought at the very heart of society; that a change in human behaviour is fundamentally required to meet the future landscape of the world.

This shift has been brought on by the combined forces of a new urban close quarter living, technology changing the fabric of society, and the blurred lines between what is work, what is living. It is a shift in what it means to be a civilian, a human, within society.

It’s a global grappling with democracy and freedom, what was historically black and white is now grey, contentious and confusing. More deeply, it’s a grappling with the reality of our own lives, our own purpose and our own truth.

The search for balance, for interpersonal truth, for meaning, contribution and new ways to live life requires a kind of transformation to materialise. With this, the leaders of the future must emerge. The world not only needs new ways to live, it needs new ways to lead and be led.

The new leader will be placed in front of decisions and situations that have never been seen, requiring a new kind of strength.

I want to propose the cultivation of a strength in leadership of a radical kind. I call this new strength ‘Sincere Humility’. It is my position that a foundation of sincere humility will be a key ingredient of the future of leadership of all kinds.

This is an idea, a thought experiment, that could serve as the basis of a kind of learning and development that may be able to seed a viable path to a solution for the global leadership need.

To break this down on a basic level, I pose and answer two questions:
1. What is Sincere Humility?
2. How can it be taught?

What is sincere humility?

Humility, by its very nature, is sincere.

Embodied, active humility results when an individual has the preparedness and resilience to live in complete inward honesty. A persons outside behaviour then becomes a reflection of that.

Humility means changing the threshold of individual acceptability.
At its core, there is one key skill of individual acceptability: the ability to tell yourself the absolute truth.

Having humility, is to deeply understand and mitigate your inner conflict to a level where you are able to separate it from your external environment. This is to say all conflict at its root, is self-conflict and our behaviours are a manifestation of our internal state. Being able to understand this internal state and affect it honestly enables a naturally sincere humility. This is then reflected outward in our environment through behaviour.

To be able to sincerely lead with humility, an individual needs to access their own truth within an instant, in any given interaction. This is, in essence, a combined mastery of an authentic Leadership based in self-awareness, self-assessment, communication, integrity & moral courage, acted out in the moment.

Despite the simplicity of that statement, the journey to mastery is one that requires a depth of understanding, framing and experience that can’t be won in a 5-step program or a one day intensive.

Ultimately, unlike any other skill, when considering behaviour that is founded in sincerity, cosmetic behavioural change is not enough. What you need is transformation and transformation can’t be taught. It is something the individual must choose.

That takes us to the second question:

How can it be taught?

The simple and direct truth is; humility cannot be taught.

On this basis, the challenge changes from cultivating humility itself, to the cultivation of the correct conditions for transformation to take place.

The social psychologists Kurt Lewin, (known for Field Theory) proposed that there are two ways to change behaviour. The first is to apply pressure in the direction where you want people to go. i.e.: you cause change using force leavers like incentive or threat. The second way to change behaviour is by making it easy.

Quickly one can see how the first method contradicts any hope for the presence of sincerity. Let’s look closer at option two; Making it easy.

In thinking about the merit of cultivating sincere humility to a level of mastery, it becomes not about ‘how’ to do this. It’s more of a question of; what’s preventing any individual themselves from doing what is necessary to reach mastery? When this is the question, the role of the teacher changes to one of removing obstacles. Once obstacles are removed, change itself can happen.

As previously defined, humility is a personal, individual transformation such that is something each individual must choose. The focus shifts from teaching specific skills, to creating a model of understanding that sets the space, tools & framework for the student to make that decision with ease.

That is a deceptively simple statement to make. It requires deep, strategic consideration to successfully materialise such an outcome. This is not a path made of tips, tricks and ‘how to’s’ that will cause a swift and efficient change to pop out a “Instant leader” (think the instant noodle of leadership creation).

If what you are really asking is; How do I stop involuntary thought? How do I impact the very core of how I, and each of my people think, act and react? It’s like asking ‘how do I hold the volume of the ocean in a 250ml cup’? You simply cannot;

And this is why this is an ideal focused on the environment needed to transform people into humans that lead with sincere humility, not on humility itself.

It’s about creating an atmosphere and space to ask the question of themselves.
To choose themselves.
To be themselves.

The shift happens when one starts to realise that all the tips and techniques have got them nowhere close to a mastery and true sincerity. In order to do that it requires there to be a letting go of the need to fix or prescribe solutions. The focus then shifts to one of honest cultivation of these conditions, allowing then the space to arrive at truly examining the self.

I am talking about creating a pathway to understanding. The real work. The true transformation will come when the individual chooses this themselves.

This moves against every traditional, normalised approach to skill acquisition. This model is not about the over intellectualisation of an abstract theory of behaviour or technique that provides a trick or hack. There is no qualification, or score. You cannot pass or fail. When I talk about a model, I am not talking about a mental model.

This is about an arrival to personal truth.

An idea to set out a path internally, giving an yourself, the permission to ask yourself real questions. Here is where they you may come to your own true understanding and truth.

There are ways, I am sure, we could build and scale this is by using all the tools available in technology, resource and structure. Using all the knowledge we have to focus on building an atmosphere that leads to truth, humility and transparency.

The best in the world (at anything) don’t become the best in the world by trying to perfect themselves for others. They do it for themselves. It’s a sincere choice of self.

This concept is about creating an environment for yourself, for others, at home and in business, that creates the space and path that gives permission for you and other leaders to choose.

This leadership problem we have, is a human problem.

There are no tricks or a crazy techniques to solve human problems. Cultivating sincere personal truth is one of the hardest life choices of all.

To be blunt, addressing such a fundamental and unique human challenge with old, outdated techniques would be a waste of time. By designing a better environment for ourselves, and others, change will naturally happen.

This question about humans, leadership and creating a future we thrive in is not one I can answer alone, so I will end with a question for you.

How can you use your skills, your technologies, your creativity to change your and our environment to one where we are a people who choose to lead with sincere humility?

IMAGE –  Rene Magritte’s painting as part of the  La trahison des images
The words on the painting  “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.”, are French for “This is not a pipe.” The statement means that the painting itself is not a pipe; it is merely an image of a pipe. A painting about the truth of what is, verse what we choose to look at.



The New Power

The recent wave of political decision relating to visa and immigration got me thinking about how we distinguish authority from power.

As the elected officials of the countries by which we reside the political figures have the ability to impress these decision upon us. It is however fundamentally important that we as individuals start to differentiate the legal authority and ramifications of these decisions and the actual real power they have over our ability to move forward.

One of the big conversations that have come out of these recent decisions around immigration has been how the restriction of employment of foreign talent is seen as a restriction on innovation. Maybe on a surface level this holds some truth however it strikes me that perhaps the government backwards step on immigration has really done us all a favour. Allow me to explain.

Over the past twenty years during the rise and rise of technological advancement, it’s difficult to cover the depth of change that has occurred within every aspect of the commercial landscape. A rate of dramatic change that shows no real signs of slowing any time soon. One of the biggest casualties of rapid change can be our ability to change our mindset and approach to match it. If you really look at the way we approach innovation within companies, how much has the way we acquire talent and pursue innovation really changed to match the environment it’s trading within?

Historically the model has been that the key innovative skill in any organisation was derived from its core internal team. That specialty, solutions and technicality was really something you held within the company. When looking at this model it is easy to understand why large established or even new organisations following this model might feel a little concerned when their access to directly employ core skill is largely restricted.

If the current path is no longer viable, is it time for the company to try something new?

When approaching how we solve core problems and innovate does the organisational model need to be reengineered?

The new book by Andrew McAfee & Erik Brynjolfsson’s called ‘Machine, Platform & Crowd’ goes on a deep dive into the current and potentially new way of to approach the place of the company in society. They break it down in a great way, proposing that companies have three core aspects of function. In the past it has been focused on “Mind, Product and Core” verses a new system of “Machine, Platform & Crowd”. At the heart of this topic the real questions that companies are contending with is how do they balance and operate in an environment when “Machine v’s Mind”, “Platform v’s Product” and “Crowd v’s Core.” are being asked of everything they do?

This way of thinking raises a number of key questions around how you approach, acquire and use talent and innovation within an organisation. It’s a back to the basics conversation to consider what the core role of the company actually is in a future where Machine, Platform and Crowd hold so much power and potential. Is it the company’s role to be able to solve all the problems internally or has its role shifted to be able to take an externally created innovation or solution to an internal problem and turn that into a deliverable product or service. Historically it has been a game of both or nothing, but with the advance of technology within the crowd sourcing environment have the rules of the game now changed?

The discussion around this topic can get heated when it starts taking a road of one or the other, so for example, is machine a full replacement of mind. However that narrative is missing the critical point of this evolution. The real space that the company requires the focus is how to augment the two for its greater benefit and the benefit of those it strives to serve and going back to the simple questions is where it starts.

What is the best way to use machine technology and platforms to assist and expedite growth when these tools are coupled with the smart and agile minds of the organisation?

Under the operational model the company needs to let go of being the problem solver and become specialists in how to clearly define the problem needing to be solved. They need to become havens for defining what they really need to innovate to achieve their desired product or service and in turn how to clearly articulate this to the crowd.

The company needs to let go of being the problem solver and becoming specialists in how to clearly define the problem needing to be solved.

The crowd then becomes the innovators and the problem solvers.

Once the solution or innovation is sourced, the company must be prepared and setup to bring that innovation back into the organisational fold, to tweak and personalise the functionality to fit within the real service offering required.

It means the companies core focus is predominantly where it always should be; focused on what the client, market segment or industry its serving really wants and needs. More so focused how they can best deliver that in a timely manner.

It means that the success game will shift from being company’s that lead because they have the best talent, to company’s leading because they ask the best questions and can clearly define the specific needs of their target client. In the crowdsourcing of talent, everyone has an equal platform, the difference in outcome relies purely on the parameters given to be solved.

One of the most exciting (and interesting) aspects of this is that in so many instances the best solution does not actually come from the typical skill set or person an organisation would have hired for the purpose. This has been shown in countless examples to date, and will no doubt continue to trend in this direction. When single mums in London can deliver a coding improvement over all the qualified engineers and a student in India can invent major environmental advancements the social impact of organisations outsourcing innovation far outreaches pure commercial gain.

Now that governments all around the globe are taking restrictive steps with visa’s of skills workers, it is time for organisations to step up and recognise that governments might have authority to make these decisions, but as founders, leaders and individuals we have the real power to decide how and where innovation comes from and how much of it we want to have flowing through our workforce. ­­­

You can find yourself a copy of ‘Machine, Platform & Crowd’ on Amazon by clicking here 


The Business of Connection

Inspiration –

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”  ~ JFK.

Mindset –

Our number one responsibility as humans is to love. Our second is to demonstrate this in action.

The Business Of Connection

I was in a meeting this week with six highly intelligent, open minded humans and I said the following phrase… “the new paradigm of business”.

I was given the 12-eye roll salute. 

I left the meeting engulfed in consideration about this reaction. My “New Paradigm” was disregarded as some kind of esoteric, new aged rhetoric.

It got me to thinking how undefined business is right now; how being in business and creating new business in the current moment of time is new territory for all kinds of reasons. It also got me to thinking how more mainstream thought and conversation should be going into the big picture to really take advantage of the change in the individual mindset that’s starting to take place. So I am hear today to start a conversation.

From where I sit I see a kind of access to technology, information and the global marketplace like never before. The traditional limits have been demolished. It’s never been easier to become a business owner. So you can go out and choose; who you want to do business with, how you want to do it & what you want to get paid to do that. You get to write the rules. All good news!

Yet. Many people do not want to own and run their own businesses. Rightfully so. I know first hand, as someone who started my first business at age 19 (cough…17 year ago!), that the risks and investments go far beyond time and money. Many people make incredible careers of far reaching success in contributing their own kind of genius to companies created by others.

Yet it is clear that there is a problem. Gender inequality, pay gaps, minimum wage workers below the poverty line, profit over environmental sustainability, no moral or legal accountability in the chemicals used in products, decisions made simply to improve cost margins, no moral accountability in dealings full stop, are just a few that come to mind when I consider the current state of play.

So where is the solution found?

I am not here to throw in the towel on capitalism. In fact I proudly call myself a capitalist. I am simply a socially minded one.

Capitalism stands as a way for people to have the freedom to create gain from their unique creative outputs. It is a wonderful circle of giving and receiving when applied in a socially minded way.

Real active social capitalism (that’s not socialism – please don’t misunderstand, I mean ‘social’ as in morally, environmentally & economically considerate) is when human kindness, environmental impact and economic accountability are held as equally important as profit.

One would be hard pressed to look around and not see that the profit first, human, environmental & economic impact last mentality has rained supreme for far too long at far too high a cost.

When you break down all the different issues listed above, like gender inequality, pay gaps, minimum wage workers below the poverty line, profit over environmental sustainability and so on, they all share one very big similarity: the business double standard.

‘The business double standard’ can be basically summed up with one commonly used sentence.

“Its business; its not personal”  

I can’t even tell you how many times this line has been used on me over the years when I was sitting on the very wrong end of a deal. It’s a “kill or be killed” approach to business and it’s the socially accepted way to operate in the “business world”.

I just want to point out a couple of things, which instantly come up for me regarding this approach to business.

  • From what I understand & what I believe is supported by a fair majority of the science community, as it stands there is only one world as we know it. Not a supposed “business” one & then another one,  you know the other world where people act with sound moral accountability and respect.
  • If one person is dealing with another person, about decisions that will impact both people – it is, unquestionably a person issue. It’s personal.
  • Most people spend more time working than any other activity – it is a life majority & for almost everyone, it is a means of being able to provide basic living standards for them & their family. That’s pretty personal too.

So now we have established there is no “business world” and separate nice “other world” and we have established that it is undeniably personal.

We also know, this is a big, complex issue. So I’m left asking, what is the better way forward? Where do we start?

I don’t have the total solution for this. A total solution will involve many smart, innovative and creative humans to work together to make major change happen, but I do have some suggested starting points to prepare ourselves and our direct communities & workplaces for this collective future change.

Number one; the most important first step (in my mind anyway), to really begin creating a “solution revolution” is connection.

Arthur Aron of the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at Stony Brook University in New York, created an experiment he called  “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness”.

It was constructed of two complete strangers, tasked with asking 36 questions as they sat face to face.

His paper has been taken and used in several high profile studies showing a considerable, and incredible outcome. On completion of the task the majority of participants felt a great (rated high) level of connection to the person they partnered with, (some even fell in love and got married – no joke!) and more so, when participants were asked, they said they would be less likely to commit a hurtful act towards that person, and more so, would go out of their way to help them in the future.

This method, the simplicity, of just asking each other 36 questions, which takes about 45 minutes of time to complete, is a game changer for connection.

So how could this be applied on a large scale?

Imagine a company of 2,000 people, most of whom only really know their immediate peers, and even then, sometimes only on a surface level. Then make this a once a month activity – the last Friday of each month, you are paired with someone you don’t know, and you run through a set of questions. Or 10,000 people from around the globe on Skype calls.

All of a sudden, you start removing the separation and replacing it with communication to create connection and with connection there is collaboration and when people collaborate, great things are created (think Apple – computer hardware people collaborating with computer software people).

This doesn’t even touch on the deep and far reaching social and psychological impact for what is fast being recognized as an over crowded society that feels a sense of deep individual isolation.

On a more personal level, imagine going into business with someone, but first, sitting down for 45 minutes to ask these questions. I have a deep understanding of the importance of the questions you are asked, and that which you ask another, at the meeting point of business relationships & I can tell you with assurance, this simple task is everything.

Connection, human connection, is step number one. 

You can view the questions here 

Don’t feel alone in your fight for change. There are great things already happening. Look at Dan Price at Gravity Payments, for example.

He announced on NBC earlier this year that within a two years of a stepped pay rise plan he will make the minimum wage in his company $70,000 p/a (cutting his own wage from $1.1 million to $70,000 to afford it) because you “simply can not survive on anything less”.

People are calling him a socialist – yet in the first 6 months his company’s growth tripled, profit margins are up & client retention is a staggering 95%. 

The numbers don’t lie. Nor does the public interest – the video aired by NBC of the announcement has become the most watched & shared video in the networks history & Harvard is doing a study tracking the company’s success.  (You can view the video here)

There is a lot of talk about self love & self care, meditation & movement, which is all valid & necessary, but let’s not forget collaboration & connection as key ingredients to a better future for all.

It is not ok to be dishonest, disrespectful to both nature and people nor discriminative in the name of “better business profit” and now is the time to change.

Maybe this shouldn’t be called “The New Paradigm”, maybe this morally accountable, kind hearted, interconnected, collaborative approach to business – should simply be called “Business”.

Note – This blog first appeared on Nabalo – you should check out their site, it’s full of all things wonderful & wellness.