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SELF-SACRIFICE AND HUMILITY IN LEADERSHIP


SELF-SACRIFICE AND HUMILITY IN LEADERSHIP


To attain transcendence, we must make connections to the world in ways that we have not done before. For example, in 2012, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, announced his vision for the organization's future. It is an aggressive and long-term plan to reduce the company's environmental impact by 50%. While his vision includes the profitability of Unilever, it importantly connects with the needs of people in the world and global challenges that threaten the planet's long-term health. Polman states that the precise outcomes of the Unilever strategic plan will "help more than a billion people to improve their health and well-being; halve the environmental footprint of our products; [and] allow us to source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably" (Unilever, n.d.). No one can deny this is a big vision. Yet, in a recent interview (Bird, 2010), Polman credits consumer activists' role in helping businesses see their responsibility to face challenging social problems rather than focus on shareholder returns. For him, listening to consumers helps to create a transcendent vision.

BE AMBITIOUS FOR THE VISION

Yet another misconception we noted while conducting our research about humility is that humble leaders do not think too highly of themselves and are thus not ambitious. That is, they do not reach for things outside of their grasp. Indeed, humility and ambition are often considered opposites. Indeed, one meaning of ambition is the "ardent desire for rank, fame or power," yet a second definition is a "desire to achieve a particular end" (Ambition, n.d.). Our study of humble leaders suggests that they are ambitious in achieving mutually beneficial ends. Jim Collins, author and leadership scholar, says of Frances Hesselbein, "she came in ... ambitious for the cause of the Girl Scouts" (Hesselbein, 2011, p. 207). To us, being an ambitious, humble leader means you believe in and move others toward a powerful collective vision. Hesselbein says:

Together we fashioned a vision. And we all caught fire with a powerful, distilled mission. It had to do with helping each girl reach her own highest potential. And that was step one. We mobilized around vision and mission and had several powerful goals they helped develop. It was theirs.

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