Byron's Babbles

Becoming Humble

Last year in Leading Like Charlotte’s Web I wrote, “Wilbur was humble. ‘Why did you do all this for me?’ Wilbur asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’ People respond well to humility because it shows that you place yourself at the same level as others, and not above them.” I am also reminded of Drybar’s seventh core value: “7. Nothing is sexier than honesty and humility! Arrogance and cockiness are gross. Actions speak louder than words. Be sexy.” I wrote about those core values in Core Values Are The Heart &Soul. Humility does not show weakness or confidence. It shows we recognize something pretty obvious – no one knows everything. The great leaders know what they don’t know and understand there are things they don’t know they don’t know. But, learning from and with others, asking questions, and asking for help are hallmarks of an effective and humble leader.

Giving others credit when things go well and taking full credit when things do not go so well were considered the hallmarks of a servant leader in Simple Truth #16, “People With Humility Don’t Think Less Of Themselves, They Just Think Of Themselves Less”, in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practiceby Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley. We are at a time when I hope more will become more humble. Especially when it comes to intellectual humility. We need to open our minds to learning. With intellectual humility we become wiser. It is really about realizing that we can learn from opposing views and have more constructive discussions, even when we disagree. Practicing intellectual humility allows us to be less judgmental of others.

The Psychological Contract

In his great book Helping, which I end up rereading every couple of months, Edgar H. Schein told us “We have a psychological contract with those we serve.” This is so true. Living up to this contract in a positive and constructive way is part of loving those we serve. If we truly want to help someone, we need to use humble inquiry to find out what help is needed and make sure that we are not taking “face” away from the other person. Helping is about finding out what someone needs. Help can only be based on what the other person identifies as his or her problem. Therefore, the most basic form of help is to enable the other person to figure out what the real problem is. This requires us to be humble and build a relationship before proposing, suggesting, or selling anything.

I started this post on the airplane to Washington D.C. last night and shortly after I got to the hotel the perfect example of humble inquiry happened. I am on the 15th floor and needed to know where the ice machines were. When I went back down to to lobby I asked, “What floors are the ice machines on?” Rather than immediately playing expert and answering exactly what I had asked, my helper inquired, “What floor are you on?” I said, “On the 15th?” He then replied, “The closest machine to you is on the 12th floor. When you get off the elevator turn left and it is right there.” With one simple question my helper had provided more valuable information than just rattling off all the floors that had ice machines, which is what I had asked. The psychological contract had begun to be filled. I would certainly be comfortable going to him for help in the future. Being comfortable is certainly the beginning of a great client/helper relationship.

As leaders, and thus helpers, keeping our psychological contracts with others might just be the most influential thing we can do. This contract has to do with the perceptions of the relationships and the influence of our day to day actions. Trust, based on established trustworthiness of the parties, is key to the relationship. Every psychological contract we have is different for every person we interact with because every person is different. This non-tangible contract is fluid and constantly developing based on communication between the parties.

Respect, equity, compassion, trust, empathy, fairness, and objectivity are just some of the characteristics of a healthy psychological contract. When you think about, these are characteristics that when practiced and differentiated based on each person’s needs go a long way toward changing the lives of all for the better.

WAIT and Listen

This week in Chapter 32, “Listening Is Love,” in Mindset Mondays with DTK by David Taylor-Klaus (DTK) I was reminded of two very influential books I have read this year. I wrote these notes down while reading the second revised and expanded edition of Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art Of Asking Instead Of Telling by Edgar H. Schein and Peter A. Schein:

  • We get opinionated distortions
  • We value telling over listening
  • We may need to know what others know in order to solve our own problems
  • We need to access our ignorance

Additionally I was reminded of some notes I took while reading the sixth edition of the great book by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans Love ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em. Here are a few of the many things I wrote down:

  • Ask so you don’t have to guess
  • Let your people mentor you
  • Think “what if” before you think “no”

As you can see, these two books were impactful to my own development on this topic of loving others through listening. I love (pun intended) that Kaye and Jordan-Evans taught us that loving those we work with is the correct terminology. If we want to relate with others, as DTK relates, we need to form our relationships empathically, not transactionally. Here are some of my blog posts that were inspired by these books:

DTK said, “In coaching, our job is to put all of our attention over there (on the other person) and dance with what arises, instead of pre-planning any response or follow up” (p. 236). It was also discussed in this chapter that we need to put a focus on what we want for other individuals instead of from them. To do this we must really show our love by listening. A great tool DTK introduced was WAIT – Why Am I Talking? Many times, instead of deeply listening we start thinking about what we can ask or what we know. We start telling instead of listening. So, I love this tool of asking ourselves “Why am I talking?” In the book Working, Robert Caro discussed that when doing research interviews for his biographies, he writes “Shut Up!” in his notes to remind himself he is there to listen and not do all the talking and asking. We all need to continue to hone our skills. If you’re like me, you have gone to meetings and know that you and others won’t talk much because __________ McTalksalot (yes, I actually have nicknames for some of these people) will do all the talking. Let’s show our love by listening.

Are you showing your love for those you serve by truly hearing them?

Accessing Our Own Ignorance

Posted in Global Leadership, Humble Inquiry, Humble Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 12, 2021

Many times our own knowledge, or love for our own knowledge gets in the way of our ability to grow and learn. We must always remember that we may need to know what others know in order to solve our own problems. I am reading an advance copy of the second revised and expanded edition of Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art Of Asking Instead Of Telling by Edgar H. Schein and Peter A. Schein. The book reminded me that when we want to influence others we need to “access our own ignorance.” It helps to come to the conversation with a genuine desire to learn; a belief that the other person has information we need in order to be successful. This gives us the potential for new knowledge to emerge that just might enhance our decisions.

If we can open ourselves to learning from others, we can collaborate to help each other. When we access our ignorance we come to conversations both confident about what we know, and humble about what we don’t know. To me, accessing our own ignorance is like becoming a sponge and soaking up all the knowledge and wisdom from those around us. In order to learn through collaboration we must acknowledge that we all need each other to accomplish our goals.