I listened to a talk by Brad Owens about the importance of leader humility. He used the example of the Titanic to illustrate his point. The Titanic was a technological marvel. There had never been a ship like it. Everyone who saw the Titanic was impressed with its magnificence.
In order to build the Titanic, traditional leadership characteristics were needed. The leaders who designed the Titanic had a clear vision. They needed a high degree of drive, competitiveness, and skill. They had to be good at what they were doing, and make sure everyone else was on the same page, so their vision could become reality.
It’s a similar story today. Good leaders need a clear vision, and a high level of drive and competitiveness. They are often selected because they are highly skilled at their craft, and they can motivate others toward a particular goal.
However, not unlike many leaders today, the leaders of the Titanic lacked humility. They thought the Titanic was invincible. As the Titanic prepared for its maiden voyage, an employee of the White Star Line remarked “Not even God himself could sink this ship.”
This lack of humility impacted the fate of the Titanic. When the crew of the Titanic were warned about the dangerous waters in front of them, they forged ahead, apparently unconcerned because of the perceived invincibility of the Titanic. The sinking of the Titanic was directly linked to a failure of humility.
It’s the same way with many leaders today. The very characteristics that bring leaders to power (e.g., competitiveness, drive, unwavering motivation) can cause wear and tear on relationships with one’s subordinates. These types of leaders have a tendency stick to their guns, even when it is wiser to change course. Humility is needed to soften these characteristics to enable a leader to succeed for the long haul.
Jim Collins studied several companies who experienced unprecedented growth and sustained this growth over time. In his book Good to Great, he found the CEOs of these companies had an uncanny mix of competitiveness, drive, and humility.
Traditional leadership characteristics enabled the Titanic to be built. Humility could have saved it.