Lessons in humility from Jimmy Iovine and M. Night Shyamalan

This is according to a study from the University of Washington Foster School of Business, which praises humility as the key leadership ingredient most tend to overlook.

Humility is often deemed the ability to think less about yourself – not less of yourself – and includes being receptive and respectful to others. It hasn’t always garnered as much attention as other cited leadership charactersistics, but this seems set to change.

“Companies are now finding that the best leaders are not necessarily the ones you read about in the media or who have larger-than-life personalities,” said the study’s co-author Michael Johnson. “They’re the people who are behind the scenes, guiding their employees and letting them shine.

“What we’ve also found was this ‘quieter’ leadership approach, which involves listening, being transparent, being aware of limitations, and appreciating follower strengths and contributions, was the most effective way to engage employees.”

It made them commited to the company’s vision, more inclined to accept new ideas, fostered a trusting relationship between boss and employee and thus led to less members of staff wanting to leave.

Someone who has applied this concept to its fullest is record producer Jiimy Iovine, who worked with the likes of U2 and Bruce Springsteen, ounded Beats with Dr Dre and become a music executive at Apple.

Talking to Adam Grant in an Esquire interview, he unveiled a few nuggets of advice that bosses could implement if they so wished.

Arguably his biggest lesson involved putting himself in a position where he could help people, and that he acknowledged the skills of others got him to where he is today.

He told Grant: “Over four or five years, I did six albums with three people: John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, and Patti Smith. I felt that if I could care as much about their music as they did, I could be useful to them. I really cared about their music and their lives. I had no skills. These incredible people allowed me into their lives, into touching their music at such a high level, you’d better take care of this and respect this. They were my three professors.”

Similarly, bosses should think about what they can do to help staff improve on themselves.

He’s also of the belief that you need to take risks, gambling on those you normally wouldn’t or don’t yet know. Following his own advice, Iovine came across a discovery he may else have let go: “At the height of Interscope [a company he created], a 19-year-old kid said to me, ‘I’ve got a tape of a white rapper.’ I said, ‘Give it to me. I’ll give it to Dr. Dre.’ That was Eminem.”

And when it comes to disagreements, Iovine explained how he tried to keep the team together: I play mental games with myself. DreamWorks Animations’ David Geffen and I disagree a lot. I bet on his answers a little more than my own. I say, This guy’s really smart. I think he’s completely wrong, but I’m going to try it anyway.”

But he’s not the only high-profile name to delve into the art of humility. The year 2013 saw M. Night Shyamalan get quite personal on the topic. In an interview with Co.Create, he divulged how he “gets through when the stakes are high”. And humility proved an important factor.

“You have to have humility, because as an artist the thing you need to have is empathy,” he said, citing a leadership trait that also tends to get booted out of the way for the likes of drive and passion. You could pretty much change the word artist to employer.

He went on to explain the subject by use of his favourite author:

“One of my favorite writers of all time is Elmore Leonard. He’s a hero of mine; I literally flew to Detroit to meet him. I bring him up because I was just reading one of his earlier books, The Switch. He writes about a kid playing tennis. I played tennis as a kid; I don’t know if he did but he was describing my childhood exactly in those seven pages where he’s talking about him playing tennis. He’s talking about why I picked the strings, why I looked up at the sky when I missed the shot.

He so empathizes with that kid. It’s so dead-on that someone who has never played tennis before knows what it’s like. That’s masterful writing. The great writers know how to empathize, and how can you do that if you don’t have humility? If you don’t judge the kid who’s throwing the racket because you understand where he’s coming from – you can so easily victimize yourself when you’re playing tennis because it’s one on one.

“Leonard has to understand that all human beings have amazing capacities; he’s coming from a vulnerable human place. He needs to empathize with that kid for me to care.”

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