Harvard Business Review
Originally published October 15, 2018
Here is an excerpt:
With all due modesty, I’d offer a few answers to these vexing questions. For one thing, too many leaders think they can’t be humble and ambitious at the same time. One of the great benefits of becoming CEO of a company, head of a business unit, or leader of a team, the prevailing logic goes, is that you’re finally in charge of making things happen and delivering results. Edgar Schein, professor emeritus at MIT Sloan School of Management, and an expert on leadership and culture, once asked a group of his students what it means to be promoted to the rank of manager. “They said without hesitation, ‘It means I can now tell others what to do.’” Those are the roots of the know-it-all style of leadership. “Deep down, many of us believe that if you are not winning, you are losing,” Schein warns. The “tacit assumption” among executives “is that life is fundamentally and always a competition” — between companies, but also between individuals within companies. That’s not exactly a mindset that recognizes the virtues of humility.
In reality, of course, humility and ambition need not be at odds. Indeed, humility in the service of ambition is the most effective and sustainable mindset for leaders who aspire to do big things in a world filled with huge unknowns. Years ago, a group of HR professionals at IBM embraced a term to capture this mindset. The most effective leaders, they argued, exuded a sense of “humbition,” which they defined as “one part humility and one part ambition.” We “notice that by far the lion’s share of world-changing luminaries are humble people,” they wrote. “They focus on the work, not themselves. They seek success — they are ambitious — but they are humbled when it arrives…They feel lucky, not all-powerful.”
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