Humble Yet Bold

In my last post I introduced a saying from Minnesota (now VOBS) Outward Bound School founder Bob Pieh--Be tough yet gentle, humble yet bold, swayed always by beauty and truth. And we discussed the first part, be tough yet gentle.

Humble yet bold describes the ideal qualities of a great leader. Best selling author and researcher Jim Collins identified exactly these characteristics when he described "level 5" leadership in his groundbreaking book, Good To Great. That book came out in 2001. Bob Pieh wrote this in the 1960s. And Outward Bound founder Kurt Hahn began cultivating these qualities when he founded his first school, Salem, in April 1920.  The rest of the world is beginning to discover what all of us who have been associated with Outward Bound have been taught and been doing for its entire history--creating great leaders, who are humble and bold.

Humility is perhaps one of the most misunderstood leadership qualities. With a 24-hour news cycle and the constant barrage of tweets and posts our modern society has slipped into a kind of celebrity leadership worship. Our leaders today seem to be defined more and more by swagger and arrogance than by humility. It can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that there are no humble leaders out there.

In Outward Bound Lessons To Live A Life of Leadership, my new book which will be in the stores October 15, I am introducing you to fourteen of them. They are leaders like Luis Benitez, one of the world's foremost mountaineers and guides, who has summited six of the world's "seven summits" thirty-two times and Everest six times; and Richard Holzman, a senior advisor for UMass Amherst's College of Education, member of the first volunteer class of the Peace Corps, and mentor to thousands and thousands of high school and college students. Their stories and the stories of the twelve others paint a picture of a very different kind of leader--one who puts others before self. 

To be a successful Outward Bound instructor requires a deep dose of humility. You will stand with your group through every adversity--late nights, rain and cold, heat, burnt dinners and group blow-ups. Your job is to keep everyone safe, both physically and emotionally; teach them all the skills they need to know to become successful expeditionary leaders, and to continually assess their progress and reduce your own involvement. And on that night, sitting around the fire, when the group takes over the entire day's debrief and manages their own community, you as an instructor become invisible. The greatest gift you give is letting go of the group as it becomes its own community without you. And to do that takes a tremendous amount of humility.

The second part of the equation is boldness. Never mistake humility for weakness. Kurt Hahn called this "tenacity in pursuit." I call it doggedness. In my farewell address to the company I had helped lead for the past seven and a half years, I described it this way: 

Expeditionary Leaders are trained to be grounded, to watch for teachable moments, and to adapt to any situation. We light the path in the darkness, and we walk it--with grit and with dedication.

Staying in the comfort of the known is easy. Most people believe that there is risk in the unknown. But Expeditionary Leaders understand that in this ever-changing world, staying put actually poses a greater risk. Uncertainty is the guide that leads us to our greatest selves.

 This is what boldness means--understanding that, as Kurt Hahn said, "there is more in us than we know." Boldness means pursuing that truth and calling forth the greatness in those we lead, and in ourselves--not for ourselves, but to serve the greater good.

 

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