When people hear the words “humility” and “leadership” in the same sentence, it’s often hard for them to grapple.
But this leadership trait is misunderstood – and underrated.
If you’ve been thinking that you need more charisma and a touch more swagger in order to instill confidence and trust in your followers, think again.
Possessing humility is often perceived as weak and unsure, or lacking confidence. And certainly, if you appear to be a pushover, you will soon be disregarded and dismissed.
However, humility does not mean you are a doormat. Instead, it means to keep your gifts and talents in perspective, recognizing those of others as equally valuable. A humble leader is outwardly focused and oriented toward others, keeping their welfare in mind.
Sadly, we have long been drawn to the “celebrity effect” of those who exhibit great charm and big personality. Throughout history, we have migrated toward those with an extra dose of narcissism, equating this with know-how, expertise, and the confidence to see things through.
Indeed, a certain “swagger” can be productive. Changemakers such as Napoléon Bonaparte, John D. Rockefeller, and Steve Jobs have made great impact. Jack Welch and George Soros, whether you agree with their approach or not, are gifted strategists who are creating legacy through seeing the big picture and taking the risks necessary to make change.
Yet, such narcissism has its dark side, as well, including the leader being highly distrustful and emotionally isolated. Narcissistic leaders can begin to believe they are larger than life and develop Hubris Syndrome, which can stunt and cripple an organization’s effectiveness. Such leaders focus strongly on their own value and ideas and eclipse the value and contributions of others. Their self-management can decrease to the point where sudden outbursts and raging are considered acceptable to them – as long as it is they who are doing the raging. Such a lack of relational skills can be extremely damaging to others and to the enterprise.
Conversely, the humble leader learns from criticism and admits mistakes. He empowers followers to learn and develop and listens to the perspectives of others to broaden possibilities. He holds employees responsible for results and takes his own personal risks for the greater good.
As we connect these dots, we can see how followers would be inspired to commit to a humble leader. Such an approach would create a positive and supportive culture. And within the organizational structure, when this is present, the employee body responds favorably as a whole, with greater commitment, engagement, productivity, creativity and innovation…all the things that a business needs to head successfully into the future.
Indeed, the benefits of humility on a large scale is exposed through Jim Collins’ research. In his book Good to Great, the author studied nearly 1,500 companies over 30 years. The companies he selected were considered of average or near average performance just prior to a transition. However, after the transition point, they outperformed the market by nearly three times over the 15 years that followed.
Collins asked why.
What was the difference in those that made this amazing shift – and those that did not? His researchers found two distinct characteristics among the leaders of these companies: humility and a steely determination to do the right thing for the company, no matter how painful.
What is your humility quotient? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I recognize the value of others’ contributions?
- Do I invite people to voice their ideas and challenges?
- Do I seek feedback regularly and act on it?
- Do I listen to various perspectives with the mindset of learning something new?
- Do I admit my mistakes when I discover my behaviors or actions are faulty?
- Do I change direction when I find I am leading down the wrong path?
- Do I work for the good of the organization and not for myself?
Begin to refocus on the examples of great leaders such as Benjamin Franklin and Mahatma Gandhi. What about them can you emulate more?
Learn from great leaders such as George Washington, who admitted imperfection, but changed course. At a certain point in his career, Washington realized that his ambition outperformed his virtue. When he made the shift to a more humble leadership approach by serving others and the cause of justice, he changed the course of history.
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Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.