Edgar H. Schein is the author of numerous bestselling books, including the recent Humble Inquiry and Humble Consulting. Schein recently retired from the position of the Society of Sloan Fellows Professor of Management Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He has received ample recognition for his work, with multiple lifetime achievement awards from associations such as the American Society of Training Directors (2000), the Academy of Management (2009), and the International Leadership Association (2012). Edgar Schein is renowned as the father of organizational cultural studies.
Peter A. Schein is a Silicon Valley innovator with 30 years of business experience at large and small technology companies, including Apple, SGI, and Sun Microsystems, in corporate development and M&A. He has an undergraduate degree in anthropology from Stanford, an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern, and an OD certificate from the USC Center for Effective Organizations. Humble Leadership is his second writing collaboration with his father, Ed.
: Broadcasting live from Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for Learning Insights, featuring learning professionals improving performance to drive business results.
: Welcome to another exciting and informative edition of Learning Insights. Stone Payton and Lee Kantor here with you this afternoon. Lee, I love doing this show. It’s brought to you by our good friends at TrainingPros. And I believe, without exception, every time we do one of these segments, we get a chance to talk to bright, passionate people, absolutely committed to their craft. And this is no exception. Please join me in welcoming to the broadcast with Organizational Culture and Leadership Institute, Ed Schein and Peter Schein. Welcome to the show, gentlemen.
: Glad to be here.
: Well, before we get too far into things, do you mind just sharing the mission of the Organizational Culture and Leadership Institute? How are you serving folks?
: Sure. Well, we got together about three years ago. We’re both out here in Silicon Valley. This is Peter. I’ve had about a 30-year career at a number of different technology companies. And I was, sort of, at a interesting pivot point in my career. So, Ed and I felt like, you know, for all of the years that, as father and son, we’ve had to talk about, you know, what we see and what we experience at work, we had more that we wanted to do and more that we wanted to say. And so, we formed a little venture, the OCLI.org, to sort of formally work together as partners.
: And, also, you know, partly for me as the son of somebody who’s been doing this, you know, since the early ’60s, a chance to sort of give him a better platform online. So, OCLI.org represents that platform. And we’re writing books and consulting with companies in different fields, particularly, these days, doing a lot of work in healthcare and safety.
: For me, it’s the greatest gift in my retirement that I could have gotten is to get to work on stuff that interests me and, now, interests Peter. So, we’re writing together and working together. And it’s just great.
: Now, you guys are recently are putting together a new paradigm in leadership called Humble Leadership. Can you talk a little bit about that?
: Okay, I’ll start on that. I wrote a book a couple years back called Humble Inquiry, which was a rant because I was sick and tired of, in our culture, everybody thinking that the way to be is to tell people things. And so, we’re always telling. You’re never asking. You’re never listening.
: And as I work more and more in the safety arena where things get complicated, particularly, in the nuclear industry or in a public utility where I was consoling, I noticed that this approach to leadership, being the lone hero and telling people what to do, was cutting off critical information from the direct reports and the teammates. And that’s how a lot of accidents happen. People knew stuff that never got out into the open.
: And so, I realized that leadership itself has to be a relationship in which the other people who are going to be the followers or the teammates have to feel completely psychologically safe, so that they can tell a leader what might be missing that he or she is not paying attention to, why some of the proposals that the leader might make might not work. All this information gets lost in the traditional bureaucratic machine model, organizational leadership model.
: And so, we need a new model that’s really built on what we’re calling personalizing. The leader has to build a personal relationship with the people who are the potential followers, or they won’t to tell him or her what is needed to really come out with the right answer. That’s the essence of build personal relationships with the people who are going to have to implement and together figure out what it is you’re going to do.
: And I just want to add, in August, we published a book, Humble Leadership, that, as Ed mentioned, it followed on some of the themes of Humble Inquiry. And it, also, built on something that was in another book called Humble Consulting from a couple years ago that developed a relationship theory that’s very important and, sort of, the theoretical foundation for this book.
: And that theory, basically, you know, in action compels us to think about the relationships that we have at work. And that provides a four-layer, sort of, type policy for thinking about those relationships where a level -1 relationship is exploitative. A level 1 relationship is transactional. A level 2 relationship is personal and built on openness and trust. And then, a level 3 relationship is intimacy. And much of the book is oriented around this model that, in the future, companies that are going to be successful are going to recognize that leadership happens when leaders and followers develop level 2 relationships with each other.
: Now, do you think that this model also translates into sales because that sounds like relationships you want with your clients?
: Well, I think, when I have observed good salesmanship, it’s always a case that the salesman gets to know the customer well enough to know how the sale can be helpful to the customer and produce a good solution. I learned this from Ken Olson, the Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, who told his engineers and salespeople, “Solve the customer’s problem. And if that means not selling DEC products, so be it. But solve the problem, be helpful, get to know them.”
: The other point there is that we’ve defined leadership in, sort of, more as a verb than a noun in this book as wanting to do something new and better. And in many respects, you can think about the selling process as trying to bring along your customer to do something new and do something better. That’s why we sell new products. It’s why we buy new products.
: And so, that establishment of credibility to do that, they’ll build on openness and trust. If you don’t have that trusting open relationship with your customer, you know, their inclination to buy is going to be as low as the trust they feel from you as the person selling something. Selling and leadership are very closely related in this sense.
: Now, I’m sure that this model fits nicely amongst your work in Silicon Valley where organizations tend to be flatter, and there’s less hierarchy. Is this kind of a message you’re trying to send to the rest of the country to maybe that model of the the all-American hero that’s coming to save the day that that model of leadership is for another time; that this humble leadership is going to work better and flatter more chaotic organizations?
: Well, one quick answer to that as it always has worked better. You know, when you look back in history and look at how the great companies and the great systems have worked, you discover that they’ve always had leadership rather than a hero leader or if there was one person whom history singled out as the hero, and you examine what that hero actually did in building his or her organization. It always turns out, they created a team, they created openness, they created trust, and that the way in which they led was what we’re describing as humble leadership.
: So, of course, it’s the model of the future because the more complicated the tasks are, the more dependent the person who see something new and better has to get the information from others, how it would look, whether it would work, how it would be implemented. And that’s what you see in some of the well-run young startups.
: I think it gets a good observation that you make that what we’re seeing out here in startups or, you know, in teams at Google do have a, sort of, forward-looking view about this. And, you know, they’ve all read the books about, you know, how the ego is the enemy. You know those books. That was why there it’s some real, sort of, philosophical classics that are adopted widely in Silicon Valley.
: But, I also, think that we’ve seen a lot of examples recently in healthcare — and Ed can comment on this more — where, you know, our local one is Stanford Healthcare, which is attached to the Stanford Medical School. And the complexity and the volatility in that market, whether it’d be, you know, keeping up with, you know, the rapid pace of disease discovery and intervention approaches or, you know, the changing nature of funding for healthcare, or there couldn’t be a much more complex business than a medical school, big, open healthcare system that’s trying to grow. It’s trying to manage itself as a profitable enterprise. I think, technically a nonprofit, but that’s an accounting thing. The truth is they have to grow, and they have to pay their people, and they have to, you know, generate net income.
: So, a lot of it looking forward — And, again, being in Silicon Valley, we get to see this, but it’s this acknowledgment of how the pace of change is increasing, the rate at which markets are disrupted is increasing, and the fickleness of consumers is increasing.
: And so, part of what motivated this was that recognition of this. You know, we use the term VUCA, but, you know, the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity that we’re all facing, and how are companies going to start to, sort of, organize themselves, organize their teams, so that they don’t be caught kind of static when their marketplace around them is so volatile.
: And so, your comment about the hero, we we make the point that we think that, sort of, heroic, hierarchical, transactional model ends up leading a little bit slow in the phase of, you know, the pace that’s happening around you. That static model just doesn’t allow you to respond with the dynamism that the market’s requiring.
: Peter gave sort of the big picture version. Let me give the micro system version. The doctors doing surgery now cannot afford to have the kind of bad transactional relationship that was, sort of, talked about in the OR where you get mad at the nurse and throw things out or whatever. Surgery today is a team sport that has to have very high levels of trust. And doctors have to realize and do realize that if they don’t create an open environment, the people in the team aren’t going to tell them when they’re about to make a mistake or leave a sponge in there before they sew up.
: And then, you get the whole patient safety stuff, and you discover that almost all the cases where patients died inappropriately or got infections were cases where there was a communication breakdown between nurses and doctors, or nurses and nurses, or nurses and pharmacy where someone didn’t speak up.
: So, in healthcare, we see very clearly the micro system level, trust and openness has to be established. And that can only really be established by more adoption of this humble leadership concept and model that you’ve got to get to know your people. It’s not good enough to know them as roles, “Oh, yeah. He’s the pharmacy guy.” That’s not good enough. “He’s John or Mary with whom I’m negotiating for the next cocktail for my chemotherapy patients.” Those have to be very open trusting relationships, and we won’t get there unless we personalize more and get to know the people with whom we work.
: And just to connect the dots of what we were saying, the point is that decision making is a function of quality of information. And our basic premise here is that you, more and more with the pace of change we’re all facing, need information to flow unimpeded. You can’t have information be held back because because that’s better for your ability to climb up the hierarchy.
: I mean, that’s still going to exist in organizations in certain kinds of market, but our view is that because the market is changing or the situation in the OR is so dynamic, you have to have information’s falling unimpededly. And level 2, what we’re calling personalizing, is our view of how that happens.
: Now, how do you implement personalization in a fast-scaling business? How do you kind of bring the right people on board, so that you know that you’re hiring people that are going to be open to this new paradigm?
: Well, there’s a paradox or an irony in that personalizing is something we already know how to do. It’s not a case of finding people who can personalize, but rather getting people to realize that what I do at home with my family, what I do when I’m trying to build a friendship with someone new whom I’ve met, what I do with my buddies in my off-work times is normally personalizing, and we’ve all learned how to do that.
: But somewhere along the line, someone said, “Oh, that’s not appropriate to work. Work, you should be professionally decent. You should stay in your role. Don’t get too intimate. It might lead to favoritism and so on.” So, we bring ourselves to work in a very tight role cocoon, and what we’re saying is, “Hey, relax. Be more yourself at work, and marvelous things will happen. Don’t overdo it. Don’t get into personal stuff that has nothing to do with work, but allow yourself to be your normal, friendly, relationship-building self that you already can be in other situations, and allow some of that to come out at work.” That’s the proposition. That’s not a selection issue. It’s a mindset to shift what you already know how to do into the work situation.
: And we described, sort of, at the social psychological level in the book how there’s sort of the two processes in that relationship forming process of revealing more about yourself and inquiring more about others. And, really, it’s an emphasis thing. Again, as Ed said, we know how to do this. We do it all the time. The question now is, will you do that at work? Will you take five minutes at the beginning of a meeting to try to establish that? You know, we have historically called it, you know, building a rapport, but we’re trying to be a little bit more blunt about what we mean. We mean building a personal connection because, down the road, that personal connection is going to be critical for information to flow now.
: Now, but some of the challenges are a lot of these people have grown up in an environment where they’ve been, or they have a fear of being penalized for being vulnerable, or, you know, maybe there’s an insecurity about it that they don’t want to share. And, you know, like you said, that they’ve historically not been that way. How do you implement this in an organization that may be because of their history is just not behaved in that manner?
: Well, one point of view is somebody has to have the idea and start. It’s amazing how when you get personal yourself how that triggers personalness in other people. So, one view would be, though I hesitate to make that the rule, is it, sort of, has to start with some of the senior executives deciding on their own behalf that they can get better information and make better decisions if they treat their immediate reports in this more personal way, and even set up a reward system that would encourage those immediate reports to get more personal with their immediate reports, so that, slowly, it cascades down through the system.
: On the other hand, we’ve seen in the healthcare improvement staff, people in the middle just starting. A nurse leader just decides she’s going to run her nursing department differently and starts getting personal. And that cascades through her whole unit and other people begin to see it. So, I think, someone has to have the insight and the mindset to start this process. And, ideally, that would be near the top or at the top, but I don’t want to make the necessary condition.
: The other thing I’d add is that, you know, consider this maybe a part of your training calendar for the year, you know. We’re sort of big believers in the T-group because Ed is one of the, sort of, early members of the National Training Laboratories and the meetings in Bethel Maine in the 1960s, but that T-group methodology is still widely adopted, and NTL is still around.
: And, you know, you may have that training, you know, objective set for the year and a training calendar. We might suggest that you consider some form of T-group training for everybody in the organization because it’s incredibly enlightening. It seems trivial, but if you use that format, it is very effective at training you how to be open, vulnerable, and training you how to listen better.
: So, when you guys set out to do this, and actually commit these ideas to paper, and begin to start to socialize the idea of the book and this set of work disciplines, if you will, were people just immediately embracing them, or did you get some raised eyebrows and some funny looks when you first started talking about this at the club?
: Well, one reaction is the eyebrows get raised around the title, around the word “humility” because that’s so counterintuitive. But when people actually read what we mean about humility being humility in the face of difficult tasks, not in the face of other higher status people, that’s not what the word means.
: When they see it, “Oh, you mean you’re helping me figure out how to be a leader in these white water or tsunami type situations that we find ourselves in?” Then, they say, “Yeah, this is right. This makes sense.” When people actually look at what the book says, we’ve gotten very positive responses that this is the way to think in the modern world.
: So, it’s a problem of getting past that title, and then those has stereotypes about it, and seeing that we already do some of this, we know how to do it, and we’ve got to do more of it in our organizational life.
: I think, we also get that, “Gee, you’re talking about something that takes so much time. How could this possibly scale across an organization?” And, you know, I would just say that there are a number of examples in the book from the US military, which is the biggest hierarchy on the planet. And these are stories from the Navy, from the Air Force.
: And so, we, sort of, view this conceptually maybe at a micro level, but it also taps into our model for organizations as being a collection of dynamic systems of it’s sort of a more of a living system model than a vertical hierarchy model. So, if you think of organizations as vertical hierarchies, then the idea of humble leadership scaling in the way we’re proposing it might seem a little far-fetched, but we don’t really think organizations of the future are going to be designed that way anyway.
: And, ironically, all you have to do is look at the US military because, you know, they know how to run teams. And we’re talking about, you know, how having a collection of teams — as you know, McChrystal calls a team of teams — is what a big organization of the future is.
: Now, do you have any mistakes that you’ve seen when people are trying to implement this that people make and that our listeners can avoid?
: Well, I mean, there’s one that’s, sort of, a micro level, which is, you know, we all have that experience at work. This is sort of TMI, too much information. There is a very fine line between creating productive, you know, open trusting relationships that work and, you know, impropriety at work. That’s a really tricky thing where we don’t have an answer to that. It’s sort of we all have to be aware of that, particularly, in the modern environment where we’re now asking people to, and we think it’s required that people absolutely abandon any unconscious biases or microaggression at work. I mean, that’s just not okay anymore.
: But, at the same time, too much intimacy can be problematic. And it is interesting, we get a lot of people asking us, “Well, gee, is there a level? You talked about level 2 and level 3. Is there a level 2.5?” And at that point, we think, “Okay. Now, somebody is really getting what we’re talking about,” because it is a level of connectedness that just approaches the threshold of intimacy that is no longer appropriate in the work environment. But it’s a delicate balance. And we’re very wary of that.
: The key to that is teams learning together, leaders and the followers learning together. I don’t think it’s possible in a complex world to get it right the first time. So, all the research we’ve seen recently in medicine and in complex organizations emphasizes how when the team first gets together, they will make mistakes, and that the effective teams are the ones that hang in there and learn how to overcome. And that’s where the T-group training, and process training, and learning becomes so relevant that we have to stop looking for one-shot solutions and recognize that joint learning is really the key to better solutions, better adaptations in the future. Heavy emphasis on learning and training.
: Now, Peter, when you were growing up, was Ed a humble leader?
: Yeah, absolutely. You know, here’s my example of why. Lots of conversations, but when I went to Stanford undergrad, I went with the intention of majoring in Psychology. And all of our, sort of, back and forth gave me the, sort of, the — And, you know, Ed was a psychologist, and it was sort of honoring my father, but I didn’t see it. And so, I ended up majoring in social anthropology, which, you know, I found to be more relevant to me. You know, as it turned out, that ended up — We joked that it’s, sort of, the family business because Ed considers himself as much of a social anthropologist as a social psychologist. And my oldest sister is an anthropology professor.
: But I think the point being, he was very supportive and open to what I was encountering, you know, at the time, and supporting me and my adaptation. And that’s what is important. I had to communicate to him what I was discovering, sort of, on the ground at the time. And then, we could, sort of, work out what the right answer for me would be.
: This is very much in line with how we wrote the book together because I discovered that by not asserting myself too much as to how those books should look, I discovered the things that Peter knew that I didn’t know he knew, and that provided a different perspective. And I’m glad, in retrospect, that I didn’t push too hard. And in that process overrides some good ideas that came from my partner.
: And just the other comment is, you know, we talked throughout the book about openness and trust. And, you know, we’ve been asked, you know, “Gee, was it hard to write a book with your father?” or “Hard to write the book with your son?” And the answer is not really because of that foundation of openness and trust.
: Before we wrap, can we take a look at this through a practitioner’s lens for just for just a moment? What I’m getting at is in reading the book, you get the ideas. And, I think, individually, you know, maybe we’re all a little bit better for it. But I wonder if maybe you have a success story you might share and/or some counsel to those of us out in the marketplace trying to provide counsel to our own set of clients, and bring this mindset, and bring some of these disciplines, and rigor, a new approach to their work? Have anything you can offer on that front?
: Do you have one now?
: Maybe the Virginia mason.
: I’m not sure I understand the issue you’re raising because what we’re advocating is not rigorous. It’s truly relaxed, except what you already know how to do, don’t let your own stereotypes of what leadership is supposed to be get in your way. I don’t think we have a system of theory. We have a way of looking at things that we think will make life easier.
: Yeah. Just on that point, there’s this idea that there are so many, you know, programs, so many, you know, multi-step approaches to how to become a better leader. And those things can be awesome. They can also be a little bit oppressive.
: And end up maybe that that you spend too much time worrying about yourself and not enough time worrying about the relationships and the reality of the people that you work with. And so, in a way, you know, we started to joke, maybe step away from the mirror, and take the pressure off yourself. Go to work saying, “I want to think about what other people, where other people are at, and be less worried about, am I doing all the five things that I need to do today to be a better leader?”
: You know, it makes perfect sense that we have these systems, and these programs, and these prescriptions for individuals to internalize to be better leaders. Those things are great, and they’re necessary, but we’re also saying maybe on the fifth day, do that for four days a week. And then, on the fifth day, say, “I’m going to forget all of that, and I’m going to go to work and think about, you know, where the other people are at, and less concerned about where I’m at.”
: This means that leadership is automatically potentially distributed throughout the group. We are against the idea that leadership has to be associated with positions, positions of being the head of something. Leadership in a good working group arises from all sorts of people at all sorts of times, and rarely from the convener or the person who’s titular of the head. So, it’s very important to realize that if you could relax, you’re going to get some good ideas. Sometimes, those good ideas are going to make you, at that moment, a potential leader. But to try to be that all the time is too heavy a burden.
: Well, that’s a marvelous point. And it’s encouraging to hear you frame it up that way. And, I think, it’s helpful for me personally just to be a little introspective for a moment and recognize that, yeah, my default is I’m looking for that five-step process, right, so that I can now go out to the field and practice this with my team. So, that’s helpful.
: Can we leave the listeners with — You don’t have to name any names if you don’t want, but maybe just by example or illustration maybe something of a success story where you’ve actually seen an organization begin to adopt some of this, and you’ve seen it yield some real fruit.
: Well, this this is maybe not exactly the kind of organization you’re thinking about, but a success story that I value very much happened when I was made the chair of a committee of the board of Massachusetts Audubon to see whether or not we could start a major capital fund drive. So, I was to meet with 10 board members, and have a task force set of meetings to see whether or not, you know, we were ready.
: And the president wanted to tell about all previous times when they had made mistakes or what they had done well. And I said, “I’d like to start differently. I don’t want you to tell about the history. I ask that we start with the dinner.” and at that, at dessert, I said, “Now, folks, I want to go around the room just once in a dialogue format, each of us telling exactly why we belong to Massachusetts Audubon, and we’re going to do this in an uninterrupted fashion. Each person is going to get to say that. And when we’re all done, then we can begin to run a regular kind of meeting.”
: So, they hummed and hawed, and said, “All right. Well, you’re the chair. We better go along.” And so, they started. And they each told why they valued this organization. By the time the 10 of us had spoken, the atmosphere was magical. We suddenly discovered we all loved this organization.
: From that moment on, everything was different. And they decided when we take the next step with all the heads of all the divisions of the organization, “Let’s do the same thing. Let’s have each of them tell why they love this organization.” That became the whole — It transformed the organization. And all I had done was to say, “Let’s start with something very personal.”
: That, I think, is a perfectly appropriate story. And I appreciate you sharing it with us. Okay. The book’s out, right? You’ve got the book. What’s next for you guys?
: The next book. We’re in the process of revising the Corporate Culture Survival Guide, which was a book that kind of came out as a business equivalent of the Organizational Culture and Leadership textbook that is in its fifth edition. We published the fifth edition in 2016. And so, the Corporate Culture Survival Guide will be focused on culture, and leadership, and change. And it should be out next year.
: Well, Peter, it has been an absolute delight having you on the show this afternoon. Thank you so much for visiting with us. And keep up the good work, man.
: All right. Thank you.
: We appreciate the opportunity.
: Love the conversation.
: All right. Until next time, this is Stone Payton for Lee Kantor, our guest today, Peter Schein and Ed Schein, authors of Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust, and everyone here at the Business RadioX family saying we’ll see you next time on Learning Insights.