Summary of Humble Leadership

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  • Concrete Examples
  • Well Structured
  • Applicable


When leaders follow outmoded autocratic models, their organizations may stumble into becoming joyless, transactional, coercive and deadening shells. These leaders perpetuate a culture that lacks trust, candor and amity. In today’s VUCA world – characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – versatile leadership makes more sense than the shopworn model of lofty corporate “heroes and disruptors” who are supposedly invincible. Edgar H. Schein, a management scholar, and his son Peter A. Schein, an expert on organizations, explain how to achieve cultural change through “humble leadership.” The theme picks up on their previous books, Humble Consulting and Humble Inquiry. They guide leaders to create a culture of collaboration, engagement and trustworthiness. Their guidance will be especially useful to coaches, mentors and HR officials who work on leadership development. The Scheins’ advice can help all leaders and may have special utility for coaches, mentors and HR officials who work on leadership development.

About the Authors

Edgar H. Schein, PhD, is professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. His son Peter A. Schein co-founded and is chief operating officer of the Organizational Culture and Leadership Institute.



“Humble Leadership”

In organizations that run on cutthroat competitiveness, employees often regard their leaders as “heroic” superstars who brilliantly meet their challenges. But companies don’t gain from positioning their leaders as masters of the hierarchy and designated heroes. 

Instead, they should turn to a different model: Collaborative, cooperative, group-oriented and relationship-based “humble leadership.” This contemporary leadership tactic “hinges on open and trusting relationships” within groups. Its hallmarks – candor, trust and openness – become the welcome, defining characteristics of humble leaders’ corporate cultures. In dismal contrast, many traditional organizations carry the burden of role-based, authoritative, disciplinary and transactional leadership marred by a lack of trust or openness.

Smart organizations are no longer hierarchal. They know worthwhile leaders can emerge from any tier in a company. Depending on their circumstances, talents and capabilities, everyday people can and do step up and lead, often contributing substantial ...

More on this topic

By the same authors

Humble Consulting
Humble Inquiry
Organizational Culture and Leadership
The Corporate Culture Survival Guide

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    Wayne Moodley 4 months ago
    “Level 2” leadership – In contrast, leaders at this level recognize employees as individuals. They know everyone is valuable. They practice personalized, trusting humble leadership, which is collaborative and cooperative. Level 2 doesn’t rely on hierarchical roles. It replaces subordination with collaboration. Examples include close colleagues on corporate teams. Level 2 leadership isn’t for executives only. Today, doctors, teachers and other professionals are learning that friendly, personal relationships with their colleagues and those they serve are more effective and enduring than formal, distant ones.
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    Isabella Verzola 5 months ago
    a leader recognizes himself if he treats employees like" Level 2" leaderschip