When was the last time you were wrong? Did you freely admit it? And were you willing to accept it?
This quality is known as “intellectual humility,” and for leaders, it’s become increasingly rare. Many leaders fear that if they show vulnerability, it projects weakness. Or if they acknowledge an instance where they were off base, they’ll lose credibility.
Yet research shows that leaders with intellectual humility have an advantage over those who rely upon ego and power, gaining influence and earning others’ respect and loyalty.
Daniel Pink, New York Times bestselling author of six books, including his newest, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, agrees. In his recent Pinkcast video, Pink discussed the concept of intellectual humility, which he defines as the willingness to recognize that what you think and believe might be wrong.
Pink cautions that possessing intellectual humility doesn’t mean you’re a pushover or that you lack confidence; quite the contrary. Having intellectual humility, he says, means being open and recognizing that we all have cognitive blind spots.
So how can you cultivate this crucial leadership skill?
Pink says that while it can be difficult, it’s not impossible. He states that the best advice for developing it comes from Warren Beyer, author of The Book of Beautiful Questions, who suggests that to test our intellectual humility, we ask ourselves these four questions:
- Do I think more like a soldier or a scout?
A soldier, says Pink, is someone who defends positions; a scout explores new territory. Those with a fixed mindset wear metaphorical blinders, remaining stubbornly on their original thought, unwilling to entertain other options. But those who lead with curiosity are open to discovering new ideas and solutions—even if they’re counter to what they believe.
- Would I rather be right, or would I rather be understood?
Those leaders with emotional intelligence understand that the benefits of long-term knowledge are far more valuable than an initial, short-lived victory. They’re not afraid to admit their mistakes and let colleagues see their imperfect humanness. And by displaying their humility, they allow others to connect with them more deeply.
- Do I solicit and seek out opposing views?
Leaders with intellectual humility are open to receiving input, and asking for help, understanding that the contributions from others can lead to greater insights. They proactively enlist dissenting opinions and points of view to bolster their knowledge and enhance their learning. One way to do this, says Pink, is to say, “Tell me if you disagree, and please explain why,” instead of asking, “Do you agree?”
- Do I enjoy the pleasant surprise of discovering I’m mistaken?
When you possess intellectual humility, you have the confidence to delight in being mistaken. Pink believes shifting your perspective is vital to view being wrong not as a failure, but as a success: you just learned something new. And when leaders model this behavior, they create a more open and collaborative culture where others are encouraged to share their ideas—and be pleasantly surprised.