Leadership: Humbition

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership

What is “Humbition”? Jane Harper, a 30-year veteran of IBM, devoted much of her professional life to helping IBM leaders change their approach to innovation, collaboration and leadership. Humbition, she explains, is a blend of humility and ambition that drives the most successful business people. She says that the term was coined by researchers at Bell Labs who were looking to describe the personal attributes of the most effective scientists and engineers.

This is an interesting and useful word – humbition. Humility is often seen as the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people. If you possess humility, then it will be difficult for you to treat any living being – friend, superior, family member, employee, animal – with less than dignity and respect. You will inherently value the other person’s ideas and perspectives. And because you are being humble in the world, you will tend to listen more intently, be more aware and respond with a higher level of emotional intelligence. You will more accurately and properly place yourself in context.

Ambition is often seen as having a particular goal or aim and as having something one hopes to do or achieve. It is a desire to succeed. Some people, with a less developed sense of humility will be ambitious for power rather than achieving a particular goal. In my view, political ambition or ambition for power, are not traits of a good leader. Ambition to achieve goals, however, is a necessary and valued trait in a leader. It is the desire to succeed that keeps a leader focused on the goal and willing to sacrifice time and energy required to achieve the desired results.

Humbition is a very powerful leadership characteristic. Consider: a truly humble leader will realize that no matter how much s/he knows, there is always much more that is unknown. She will spend very little time defending what she knows and will instead spend a great deal of time exploring what she doesn’t know. A leader with humbition will recognize that he is where he is in life because of the work done by others before him. She knows that her success is a combination of circumstance, luck and, of course, her own hard work. In other words, leaders know how to keep themselves in context and so will not be reluctant to seek the help, a different world view and/or advice of their friends and co-workers.

Is humbition a way of being for you? Are you developing humbition in your team? Is it a characteristic, a value of your organization?