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This I Believe

This essay was inspired by the NPR series “This I Believe”.

Humble Leadership

I was born in Scotland, not long after the second world war. My parents had grown up in the depression and had endured the second world war where my dad served in the British army and my mother in the land army. We didn’t have a lot, but neither did anyone else at that time.

I picked up a lot of my values from my parents, as we all do. Living within your means was one. My parents never had a car. They never had a credit card, and paid cash for everything. They believed everyone was equal: or as they say in Scotland “We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns”. Always do your best. Treat others as you want to be treated. And never blow your own horn. Boasting or bragging about what you have, or how you’re better than others was one of the cardinal sins.

When I started working, I was an engineer, then a manager. My bosses always said I was good at managing people, and my staff thought I was good to work for. I continued to develop myself as leader, taking classes at university, reading extensively, trying out new ideas and building my leadership tool box.

Along the way I was given troubled employees to manage…either help them to perform or move out of the company. Most performed. I was also given problem projects to manage, and they always turned out well. I was given promotions and moved up the ladder. What started as a small organization in Ottawa, Ontario, grew to have people in 6 locations in Canada and the USA, with clients all over North America, the Caribbean and Latin America.

We all have gifts and leadership seems to be one of mine. When 360-degree assessments became popular in my organization I always had good results. When my colleague, John, was doing his PhD he was studying managers who were exclusive (they do things alone) and managers who were inclusive (they work with others) and shared the results. He said I was the most effective leader because I did both, as the situation required. When I did a 360 at the Center for Creative Leadership the facilitator said, “We don’t see many assessments as good as this”.

When I was being certified in The Leadership Circle (a 360-degree tool) a few years ago and had my own assessment results that trainer said, “I don’t see many like this”. He observed, however, that I had scored myself lower than everyone else in pretty much everything. During one of the peer coaching exercises I was working with a guy called Mike. Mike commented on the excellent feedback and wondered why I had scored myself lower than others had. I quoted William Shakespeare who wrote, “Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”. And with me leadership was like that. Throughout my working life I rarely volunteered to be a leader, others asked me to do it, and I did it well. Mike’s next questions were “What would it be like if you didn’t do that? What would it be like if you stepped into leadership roles?”

Great questions, and I’ve thought about it almost every day since then. I’ve done a lot with my life since growing up in Scotland. I have a lot to be proud of: wonderful family, I’ve lived in 3 countries, travelled a lot, had a successful career, have good friends, and a secure life. All without ever blowing my own horn. My parents would be proud of me.

My purpose in life going forward is to share what I know and what I’ve learned with others on their leadership journeys. I want to inspire people to grow and blossom and become outstanding leaders. If they choose to blow their own horns a bit, that’s OK. And as I guide others in this, I will always be humble. My parents taught me well.

This I believe.

David Green

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