Reading John Dickson: Humility and Leadership

A few weeks ago my daughter Beth alerted me to a Radio National program she had heard.

Richard Aedy interviewed John Dickson on Life Matters.

I followed Beth’s advice to listen to their discussion of humility. As a result I bought John Dickson‘s book Humiltas.

The subtitle to the book is A Lost Key to Life, Love and Leadership.

In it John suggests that “the most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility”. He defines humility as “the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself”.

John identifies leadership as “the art of inspiring others in a team to contribute their best to a goal”. Leaders have:

  • Ability
  • Authority
  • Persuasion
  • Example

Humility “enhances persuasiveness”. John concludes his discussion of humility and leadership with six steps:

  1. We are shaped by what we love.
  2. Reflect on the lives of the humble.
  3. Conduct thought experiments to enhance humility.
  4. Act humbly.
  5. Invite criticism.
  6. Forget about being humble.

In the last paragraph of the book John quotes CS Lewis:

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise one is proud. And a biggish step too. At least nothing can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.

I think that is a great way to end … and start.

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This is a brief post about Tim Harford‘s book Adapt.

A trail for the book observes that:

In this groundbreaking book, Tim Harford shows us a new and inspiring approach to solving the most pressing problems in our lives. Harford argues that today’s challenges simply cannot be tackled with ready-made solutions and expert opinions; the world has become far too unpredictable and profoundly complex. Instead, we must adapt—improvise rather than plan, work from the bottom up rather than the top down, and take baby steps rather than great leaps forward.

I listened with great interest to Tim’s interview on Radio National’s Counterpoint. He discussed:

  • Planning failures in a complex world … even in relation to toasters!
  • Error correction … “success is about error correction”. “We tend not to acknowledge failure.”
  • Willingness to accept independent evaluation is a sign of strength not weakness.
  • Show humility in acknowledging error.
  • Adrian Hewitt and the Merton Rule.
  • Encouraging differences of opinion and dissent in the discussion of strategic initiatives: lessons from the US military. (This is a fascinating part of the interview that introduces Irving Janis, Solomon Asch, H R McMaster, David Patraeus, and Major General Jack Galvin.)

Tim’s interview concluded with three principles for an adaptive organisation:

1. Try new things: expose yourself to outside influences. Accept the failure of tools … that is why you need lots of tools.

2. Make sure failures do not finish you off: have survivable small bets.

3. Make sure you know the difference between success and failure.

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Adapt or Perish