Edgar and Peter Schein on Humble Leadership

When Edgar Schein said*, “The essence of humility is not interpersonal,” my brain lit up.

Ed and Peter explained that they aren’t focusing on humility in relation to other people. As I considered ‘comparative humility’, the idea of being superior or inferior came to mind.

Comparing yourself with a superior puts you in an inferior position. This makes being humble difficult to pursue and develop. You would not intentionally pursue being inferior. 

‘Here and now’ humility:

“The essence of humility is what I call ‘here and now’ humility in the face of a task that is defeating me in the sense that I don’t know exactly what to do next. … I need to ask some questions. I need the help of the people around me.” Edgar Schein

‘Here and now’ humility requires the ability to evaluate current challenges and consider how available resources and skills are able to meet/not meet those challenges. The idea being that most of the time you come up short.

“Most of the time we don’t know enough to know what to do next.” Edgar Schein

Humility and lack of knowledge:

Peter Schein added, “You know that when you go into a meeting that there are other people in the room that know a lot of things that you don’t know.”

In other words, it’s humble to consider and acknowledge another person’s expertise. You aren’t trying to be humble. You are humble.

Peter said, “In the moment humility is critical to information exchange.”

Heroic leadership:

Heroic leadership is the opposite of humble leadership.  

Humility … “Assumes I need the people around me. This is a collective process. This is a personal process. It’s not a transactional process… I alone cannot solve this problem.” Peter Schein

What factors make leaders humble?


Join me today at 1:05 p.m. for a Facebook Live conversation with Ed and Peter Schein on humble leadership.