How Daily Interactions Demonstrate Humility

By: Robert Miller, Arches Leadership LLC

I have always tried to not think of myself as being “above” or “more important than” or “better in some way” than the people that I work with. But not long ago I had an experience that really caused me to stop and reconsider my daily interactions with others. In an effort to improve, we conducted an online Shingo assessment (in its beta form, we called it SCOPE – a refined version will be released in 2015 as “Insight.”) The assessment essentially asks every associate to compare their daily experience with the ideal as defined in the Shingo Model and the ten Shingo Guiding Principles.  The perspective of leaders, managers and associates in each dimension of the Model are compared for opportunities to improve.  To say I was not prepared for the results is an understatement!

Many people in our small group of 13 people felt I had become distant, pre-occupied and even a bit elitist when it came to key information and strategy. How could this be? I certainly didn’t feel this way. I sincerely cared a great deal about these people and it hurt deeply to think that they could come to these conclusions. “Surely they must be wrong about this,” I thought. “Either we must have asked the wrong questions or they must have misunderstood them.”

Thinking back, I recognize I went through the “SARA model.” I came to see that only when I completed the final stage of the model could I learn, grow and be of service to my team.

Here is what SARA means, as I understand it:

S – Surprise: To be perfectly honest I expected we would learn a great deal from the survey about everyone else’s weaknesses – most of which I could see clearly. I expected to see quite a bit about our need to improve our management systems…but what I did not expect to learn was that a significant part of our need for improvement lay at my own feet.

A – Anger: Then I got mad!  How could these people feel this way?! Did they not know all of the battles I had fought on their behalf? Did they not appreciate everything I did to help them be successful? Honestly, I started trying to figure out who said what in the anonymous survey so I could straighten them out!

R – Rejection: My next thoughts included a conclusion that these people were simply wrong – they had to be! This was not where we needed to spend our valuable time. I had a long list of more important conclusions from the same survey that were far more valid and would yield more tangible improvements to the organization.

Finally (one month later), A – Acceptance: Little by little and one small private conversation at a time, I started to understand the potential validity of what these trusted colleagues were experiencing. It wasn’t that they didn’t like me or respect me or value me (which was where my emotions were taking me), but was more the natural byproduct of my 70% travel schedule, our rapid growth, our emerging new strategies and a relatively new leadership team who were also traveling 60-70% of the time.  Knowing this enabled me/us to develop strategies to make improvements.

So what did I learn from this somewhat painful experience?

1. If you don’t ask, you will probably never find out.

2. If you ask, you had better be prepared to listen and learn.

3. Events of the day can often overwhelm even the best intentions.

4. You must get past the temptation to blame people before you can get to the broken process that is almost always the problem.

5. It is natural to feel surprise, anger and rejection when hearing difficult things, but learning and growth is only possible on the other side of them.

6. Getting past the SAR in SARA requires a willingness to be vulnerable and personal growth requires vulnerability.

7. The growth and development of any organization is enabled when a leader, and then a leadership team, creates the painful conditions that enable growth and vulnerability for the one and then the many.

8. Leaders are always respected more for showing openness and vulnerability…not less.

There is risk in being vulnerable and demonstrating humility.  Things don’t always turn out exactly as you might predict, but if you hang in there and demonstrate a willingness to work through the toughest issues, good results and personal satisfaction will follow.  Culture is about behavior and ideal leadership behavior is the pre-requisite to creating a sustainable culture of excellence.


This article originally appeared at

Robert Miller will be speaking at the 2014 Lean Accounting Summit occurring Oct. 21-22, 2014 in Savannah, Georgia, USA. More details at

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