Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness and Trust


Book Review by Kevin Buck, Emergent Success
The above is the title of the most recent book by Edgar and Peter Schein. And to introduce this book review I would like to start with a quote about the book from a colleague and esteemed author, Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, Harvard Business School.

“Humility may be the modern leader’s most important attribute. In a complex, dynamic world, humility is simply realism. This powerful and thoroughly engaging book delivers the wisdom of Edgar Schein’s half century of research and practice dedicated to helping organizations and those who manage them. Its authors—a pioneering organizational scholar and his son—embody humility as they describe its power in transforming organizations. Compelling case studies clarify the humble leadership approach and make it actionable.”
It is all about the relationships. And Humble Leadership puts the focus squarely on the need for everyone in the organization to build authentic relationships and trust. Even though we are all distinct in our individuality, we are also connected to one another through our relationships. An organization and it’s culture are co-created by the level of relationships that are practiced in the organization.
For simplicity, Schein suggests that there are two levels of relationships that we need to distinguish to move toward Humble Leadership. The first level is transactional. It is best observed in: role and rule-based supervision that is often hierarchical and impersonal. The second level is transformative. It is based on trust which is co-created through a mutual vulnerability. Vulnerability is the willingness to be authentic with ourselves and with each other in a way that facilitates a transformation for: us, each other, the team, and ultimately the culture of the organization. Moving from the first to second level is what best exemplifies Humble Leadership. It is all about the relationships.
The book goes on to give the reader some wonderful case examples along with practical ways to make this transition from transactional to transformational. Part of the humbleness that Schein exemplifies in this work is a willingness to enter a place of unknowing about the other. I have written and spoken about this as the mystery of the other. Knowing that we will never completely know anyone, it might be best to approach all relationships with awe and curiosity. This book humbly suggests the same. I highly recommend it.