Intellectual Humility

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There is a huge difference between the clash of egos and the natural jostling of two people enthusiastic about their individual ideas.

The key differentiator is intellectual humility.

A fiercely competitive spirit that fights tooth and nail for its position, when infused with humility, can step back in the face of contradictory data and say,

“OK, you are right. Let’s start looking at it that way.”

A lack of humility about one’s ideas causes team work to break down, stifles creativity, and often leads to a political/personal attachment to an idea that can be the death knell of and individual, a company, or even a great nation.

Take the statement of a senior scientist who on hearing that his team was getting results that contradicted the theory for which he was famous,

“I don’t care what you do. You will get results”

Another example could be the CEO who, out of touch with trends in his industry and changing customer needs, clung to a technology that had been very profitable for the company that he founded.

A fierce commitment to one’s ideas can be viewed as coming from a place of certainty and conviction. But without intellectual humility it can be a huge blind spot. It can further a person’s career in the short run but in the long run stifles progress. If those same individuals deployed the intellectual energy used to defend their position to restraining their egos the result will be the discovery and expression of more creative solutions.

However it takes courage to resist the winds of personal and/or political ambition. Intellectually humble leaders

  1. Build diverse teams and encourage “devil’s advocates” to speak freely.
  2. Nurture long-term goals as much as short-term gains.
  3. Focus on customer needs rather than their own fame or past reputation.
  4. Keep their egos in check by encouraging frequent, accurate, and honest feedback.
  5. Thoughtfully reflect on the views of the “other” side.
  6. Realize that, no matter how smart and experienced they are, there comes a time when they step back and let others shine.

Intellectual and personal humility is core to the development of cutting-edge technology, innovative companies and individuals, and political action that benefits those beyond the top 1% in society.

It is the fertile environment in which the seeds of creative change germinates and grows.


About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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