The Humble Leader
February 9, 2013 Leave a comment
Is it possible to be a strong leader, yet remain humble? I contend that strong leadership, in fact, requires humility.
When you think of humility your first inclination may be about being meek or timid. This should be revised because when it comes to leadership, humility is about maintaining pride in your achievements without the arrogance. It’s about having a quiet confidence without needing to be boastful.
In practice, humility in leadership is about listening well, admitting when you are wrong, and highlighting others’ strengths and accomplishments above your own. These are the core elements of being a humble leader.
When business leaders truly connect with employees, customers, shareholders or suppliers they are demonstrating their humanity. And that humanity is grounded in humility.
But you can’t fake humility because it requires authenticity. You are either interested in growing and developing or not, and other people can tell whether or not this is true. The more secure the leader, the more humble he or she can be.
Humility in leadership includes:
Listening well means being fully attentive with all your senses and not simply preparing to respond. The humble leader first seeks to understand what is spoken and also what is unspoken. This requires suspending the desire to solve a problem and instead to first fully understand what is being said.
A conversation where each person is able to be acknowledged and fully heard enables creative solutions to be uncovered. It enables the opportunity for reflection and deeper understanding.
Through better listening, the humble leader can also model this behavior for others to also begin doing. Learning can then take place on only in the immediate conversation but also trickle throughout the organization.
As a humble leader, you also recognizes your own shortcomings and weaknesses. You are able to acknowledge when you don’t know the answer and when you’ve made a mistake.
This is because acknowledging one’s mistakes is about being authentic. Making yourself vulnerable by showing that you are not perfect enables others to see you as more human, and this humanity translates directly into humility.
Humble leaders actively seek out the advice and talents of other people in order to grow. This receptivity to others’ input enables leaders to open their eyes to their own limitations as well as new opportunities that otherwise might go unnoticed.
When a leader is comfortable in admitting mistakes and seeking the counsel of others, he or she demonstrates this humility.
Humble leaders never fail to promote those around them. This means regularly acknowledging the accomplishments of others privately as well as publicly.
In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes how great leaders look out the window when things go right and look in the mirror when things go wrong. This requires regularly giving credit rather than taking credit. It is also in direct contrast to the many egotistical leaders promoted in the media who command so much of our attention these days.
Legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant was once asked how he got people to win so many football games for him. He said that he always told his players: “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it.”
This self-confidence in highlighting others above and beyond oneself reveals strength of character and true humility in a leader.
Finally, humble leaders are life-long learners and not willing to rest on their laurels. They are constantly growing and demonstrate to those they lead that this need for growth, which involves making mistakes, as well as uncertainty and false starts are normal and expected in the organization. This learning attitude produces followers, which enables the entire organization to focus on growing and improving.
Humble leaders continually learn to listen well, acknowledge ignorance, own up to mistakes, and promote others. These traits demonstrate humility and that delivers great leadership.