As a CEO, what should you never do?

«CEOs should urgently become more humble»

Mr. Schein, what are the core elements of your new book “Humble Leadership”?

Edgar H. Schein: If you look at the consultant relationship, you quickly realize that it is a "helping relationship". In this respect, the basic idea of ​​my approach is based on the concept of helping.

What do you mean by help?

I have observed that the concept of help is primarily about advice. Customers ask a question and as a consultant you are told what to do. In reality, however, this concept does not correspond to my rather long work experience.


I realized that an important part of a customer relationship is listening to and showing respect to the customer. This obliges me as a consultant to be humble in the sense that I am willing and able to listen to the customer and help him find out what the real problem is that needs to be solved. That is the core element.

You have dealt with questions of organizational development all your life and are regarded as a luminary in this discipline. Where do you see their importance today?

Organizational development has degenerated into an unmanageable toolkit that unites everything: from diagnostic tools to team building programs to leadership development instruments ... - In short: The term can make a lot of money, because organizations want to Tools. But if you no longer differentiate between organizational influence, the Toyota production system and all kinds of management development programs, organizational development remains in ruins. Nevertheless, today all of these things are assigned to the term organizational development. In this respect, it makes no sense to ask the question whether organizational development is still relevant. It depends much more on what you are actually referring to.

You have seen many trends come and go in your career. What do you think of the currently hyped term “Holacracy”?

First of all, for me it is an expression of what is going on at the grassroots level of organizations today. It's about offering those employees who are in direct contact with customers a work environment that drives innovation. Apple and Google are pretty much at the forefront of providing the talented people with a suitable work environment. It's a good form of organization, but not new at all. The term is based on a concept that has always been used in research centers and think tanks. But for a sales team in the consumer goods industry, Holacracy is definitely a new concept (laughs).

What is your advice to the leaders of today and tomorrow?

When I wrote the book Humble Leadership, I first had to define what I mean by leadership in order for it to make sense at all. My approach makes the most sense at the top of an organization. For some time now I have observed more and more often that CEOs of mature or aging companies are torn between the ideas of the management, the market demands and the ideas of the analysts. You keep wondering what the next step is. These types of CEOs should urgently humiliate themselves before making decisions because a CEO will never alone have enough knowledge to decide what to do. That is one of the central goals of my concept. In this modern, highly networked world, the CEO of the future will simply not generate enough knowledge for sensible decisions when he is alone in his office. I explicitly exclude CEOs from technology-driven start-ups.

You will be giving a video livestream at the “Humble Leadership” conference on May 23rd. What can the participants expect?

I think the lesson will be a personal insight in the end. I really believe that a humble leadership style is very different from the traditional understanding of leadership. However, this requires a different mindset and way of thinking, which must first be achieved personally. So I believe that any leader is best to start with himself or herself and eliminate his or her own blind spots first before he or she wants to influence a larger group of people. Become aware of what you are not doing well. Don't look for ready-made recipes. Make sure that you and the people around you expand your repertoire and that you, as a manager, adopt a modest advisory stance. (Simon Bühler, based on video interviews by Gerhard Fatzer and Daniel C. Schmid)

To the conference

On May 23, the “Humble Leadership” conference will present the basics of Schein's latest approach to “unbiased leadership” with a live video stream keynote by Edgar H. Schein. This is a consistent continuation of his pioneering works in organizational development: process consulting - corporate culture - leadership. The conference is chaired by Dr. Daniel C. Schmid, HWZ, and by Dr. Gerhard Fatzer, Trias, Ed Schein's long-term cooperation partner. After an introduction to the work by Gerhard Fatzer, current cases from management and consulting practice will be worked on and discussed in detail in four parallel workshops and a panel discussion. Daniel C. Schmid also exclusively presents the latest findings from Ed Schein's family research. Finally, Ed Schein will present his current book “Humble Leadership” in a live keynote - exclusively in German-speaking countries.

  • When: May 23, 1.30pm-7.30pm
  • Where: HWZ (Sihlhof, Lagerstrasse 5; directly at Zurich main station)
  • Costs: CHF 490.– (regular)
  • With HR Today subscription: CHF 390.–
  • Info and

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