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Real Life Leadership: Humility, tenacity good character traits in building a successful team

My latest Real Life Leadership column is online. This week it is Humility, tenacity good character traits in building a successful team.

In an earlier posting, I wrote about Peter Grimm, a family friend and world-class sailor.

Today's column was inspired by some of the things he told me about what team work on a racing yacht is like.

The further I go along in my learning about leadership, the more I realize that most of the ways we think about leadership is counterproductive. Humility is a classic example.

Jim Collins celebrates humility as an integral ingredient in being a Level-5 leader. Tom Peters on the other hand loves leaders who are audacious, and has been quite vocal in his disagreement with Collins on this point. What this shows me is that we tend to over simplify ideas, like humility.

The caricature of the humble person is the wet-blanket whom everyone steps on.  That person isn't humble, just weak. Humility is character trait that is essential if you want relationships to work.  Peter speaks about people who listen as examples of humility.  This means that listening isn't a passive exercise, but an active one. It requires a process of analysis, reflection and response.

One more comment ... for those of you who are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, you'll know that one of the designations is Introvert/Extravert.  The Extravert is often, not always, the most vocal person in a group. That is partly due to their (our) preference for thinking out loud.  Introverts, on the other hand, prefer to think before they speak. This distinctive was made quite evident to me many years ago when I took a group of college students to a teamwork challenge courses.  There are many simulations that force a group of people to work as a team in order to achieve their goal.  One of these initiatives is called Acid River. You get the idea that the team has to cross an expanse that is a river of acid. They have materials to use, and must communicate in order to find the right way. As it happened, on one of the teams was three men and a woman. The guys each had ideas flying all over the place. They'd have way try one, and then one would interupt, and they half-way try something else. Nothing worked because they weren't working as a team. After 30 minutes, this quiet young woman finally spoke up, made a couple comments, and within five minutes, they had completed the initiative. What happened was this woman was the introvert of the group. She listened, processed, and came up with the answer, and then waited until these guys had run out of ideas.  It was a great lesson in teamwork and leadership, for all of us.

Humility is an important part of leadership and teamwork. I'm planning a RLL column in November on Ira Williams' new book on humility called Speak Softly. I encourage you to read the book. 

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