An Essential Requisite for Leaders in a Time of Great Change
“Humility is the cornerstone of leadership.” —John G. Miller, author, and management consultant
We are at a turning point in our history. You can almost taste the uncertainty that prevails across the land. The rules and expectations that we have relied upon for too many years, in politics, in business, even in professional baseball (I can’t resist, you Cubs fans) no longer reliably predict success as they once did.
A billionaire businessman with no political experience defies all predictions to become President-elect of the United States. The polls and pundits we have consistently relied upon came up startlingly short. And even though Republicans, in January, will control the government and its policy agenda, we really do not know how the new man in the Oval Office will lead the nation.
The industrial metals supply chain, and MSCI as well are buffeted by disruptive forces, pushing us as leaders into uncharted territory. Oh yes, and the Chicago Cubs, against all odds in those last games, mounted an inspiring and remarkable comeback to end their 108 year World Series drought. Who’d a thought?
As I turn these remarkable developments over in my mind, I keep coming back to a single character trait that I believe will be essential for all of us in leading and coping in this unpredictable environment. That trait is humility.
Whether we are trying to lead a nation and put a shattered electorate back together, or figuring out how to grow and prosper in an industry where the rules of the game are shifting beneath us, without a genuine sense of humility we will be blinded by the past and relegated to doing what we’ve always done while expecting a different result. Without humility, we cannot know or recognize what we do not know.
Without humility, we cannot lead intelligently in a world rife with profound technological, demographic, economic and government transformation. Leaders who endure, who create an effective arsenal of tools for change are generally those who gratefully acknowledge their team. They acknowledge that they do not have all the answers, and understand that finding firm footing on shifting ground requires the shared insight and collaboration of talented people.
It is hardly a secret that we did not see much humility from our President-elect during his winning campaign. A common Washington mantra these days is the reminder that sometimes, the office changes the person who occupies it. We can only hope so. Across the ideological spectrum, both political parties and indeed the citizens of this country require a deep healing if we are to move forward. Bombast is not a healing tool. Humility, consultation, reaching out to those with whom we disagree, these are the tools that now must be used to bind up this great land.
We now have a tremendous opportunity to break from the sluggish mold into which the economy has settled. At MSCI we are encouraged that our policy agenda, for infrastructure spending, tax reform, an equitable energy program, and the easing of stifling regulation, among other things, seems to match that of the new administration and Congress. But to turn campaign slogans into workable programs the Congress, indeed the entire country, will need to be brought together with grace and patience and a kind of creative thinking we are not accustomed to from government.
At MSCI we understand all too well the kind of transformative work that will be needed. We are in the midst of our own re-visioning process and renewal, so that we may flexibly adapt to what is nothing short of a new world order to serve our members with renewed strength. For us as well, the old business model will not serve. We approach this work with a genuine sense of humility and commitment to change.
For our new government and for our industry in flux, we see the vast potential of creating an innovative new road to growth and prosperity. St. Augustine never ran a business or a government, but he understood that path. “You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds?” he asked. “Lay first the foundation of humility.”