I’ve been meaning to write about managerial humility for a while now. Quite often managers are put into a position of making a decision. These decisions will have long term effects. Even the smallest ones.
All of us could potentially benefit long-term from questioning our choices and decisions more, before they are made. Delaying a decision and nourishing your doubts is nothing bad in my opinion. Similarly showing your vulnerability, that you don’t understand all of the options enough to make a decision.
The above stands even more true for people who have responsibilities for other people. I specifically mean managers and leaders. We spend too much investing into our culture of axioms. The culture of knowns. Also in our misunderstanding of science and faith. Where science is the vessel to give us more axioms and absolutely clear answers. Where faith provides us with an unbreakable will.
Science is in fact a practice in navigating unknowns, with an attempt to understand knowns better. A good scientist understand that knowing more, means seeing more of the unknown, rather than feeling more in control of the knowns.
The next misunderstanding comes from our approach to faith. A person, which would be truly spiritual or religious is full of doubts. As with science, it is only a different approach of investigating the unknown. The closer you get to the unknown through faith, the more questions you see.
Science and faith meet each other in one area. The better the practice, the more unknowns you have seen. The more questions you will have. Questions that are often beyond your ability to answer.
And this is where for simplification we introduce simple axioms, which then grow into absolute truths.
Our humility is lost.
As long as we are not ourselves, we will try to be what other people are.Malidoma Patrice Some
Similar factors work in management. You look at the data and build a strong resolve. You build up faith. The worst you can do at that very moment is to build your absolute truths and simple axioms. What you should build is the space for questions. The space for doubt. The space for humility.
Humility is a function of the heart. It is a place where all facts can be changed by a simple feeling there always might be more. Silence helps to get to the humble state. A silent place where you can just listen to yourself. Then you can try to action … or keep on delaying it.
Example one would be an employee that always underperforms. One, that doesn’t meet the criteria which were set for them. Here you are as the manager. You have all the data in the world and you are sure you have lost your faith in this person. The usual approach would be to proceed with a performance improvement plan. And a potential firing of the person if they won’t improve. Instead of doing so, practice humility. Stand down and let yourself question again everything you know. Ask yourself, as many times as necessary, what else could be done. Open yourself to the unknown. Open yourself to the fact you will not have all the answers and you might be wrong. Then open this vulnerability to people you trust. Only after that make that decision. But remember! Take as much time as you need. Don’t rush.
Another example could be a product decision. Again you have gathered all the data. You pumped yourself with the faith this idea will work (hopefully avoiding New-Age books to build it and you have built it in a rational way). In this case you have all the data and all the faith needed. You want to go with it. Instead of doing so, practice humility. Stand down and let yourself question again everything you know. Ask yourself, as many times as necessary, what could be done. Open yourself to the unknown. Open yourself to the fact you will not have all the answers and you might be wrong. Then open this vulnerability to people you trust. Only after that make that decision. But remember! Take as much time as you need. Don’t rush.
It takes a lot of emotional maturity to practice humility. It takes a lot of resolve to fight others a decision does not need to be made immediately.
In my personal practice I am using a range of tools that help to practice humility. My first tool are books by Dr Gabor Mate.
To really get to know yourself, you must be open to the possibility that the “real” you is not altogether a positive person. We are convinced that at our core, we are good and decent, altruistic even. This may not be the case. At my deepest, I may be a jealous, vindictive, petty, selfish being. If so, this has likely arisen from unfortunate life experiences. It doesn’t have to remain this way. It can be rewired and changed, but not until we accept it for what it is.Dr Gabor Mate
When I feel too cock-sure about something. I open the books like In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. I then read some. After that I read some more. I investigate the interviews with his patients. People, who are addictioning themselves to death. And even through his years of experience, he is not able to help them. I praise his humility.
I also love the books for their good mix of where the science meets faith. As I have mentioned above, in the unknown. Or even in the unknowable. In most cases my humility starts to come back.
If that doesn’t work, I will befall of the fantastic works of Dr Stephen Gilligan and the centering practice. It is important to be capable to center. Deep breath and then trying to invoke a bit of a generative trance state (a state where what we know becomes more flexible, while us still being aware of it). Mainly through stillness and breath. Much different to meditation, as you need to try to stay aware of the surrounding, not trying to calm it out. Nothing is cut out. All is included. Include and extend. Trying to hold both the conscious and the unconscious minds together.
15 minutes of that practice helps to resolve the lack of humility. The lack of internal space. The feelings of knowing it all.
Other than that I love playing football. And other sports. There is nothing more humbling that putting in 100% in a physical effort and still losing. Having something within your grasp and not getting it. All this after putting in your best. Don’t get me wrong, I like winning, though not saying the teams I was on were known for always winning. No team is.
But what probably works best to keep my humility is looking for information that completely contradicts my point of view. Attempting to take it in. Attempting to understand it. I enjoy it. I truly love that internet gives you access to all this scientific material out there today.
To learn to succeed, you must first learn to fail.Michael Jordan
To summarize today. Humility is a skill that requires practice. It is a skill that sits somewhere behind knowing and believing. It is a skill that opens you to accepting other truths or plainly opens you up to accepting some things are unknown. And will remain unknown. Science and faith help.
And together they help to form the unknowable. The sweet spot you should look for. The spot where neither science or faith can help you to find the answers. Where no matter how arrogant you are, you won’t be able to push things anywhere. You will not be able to answer questions. The space where you need to bow.
The humble space.