When we think of qualities that best embody leadership, what qualities come to mind? For many, even notable leadership “gurus” like Tony Robbins, terms like confidence, focus, vision, and resilience might top the list. Other usual suspects might include decisiveness, listening skills, and even empathy.
Given the very nature of the quality itself, it’s somehow perfectly fitting that humility is regularly omitted from these kinds of lists. Traditional business leadership precepts have historically valued the bold, the confident, the proud. And we wonder where the expression “It’s lonely at the top” comes from.
Self-centered leaders focus on personal advancement, knowing all the answers, seeking the spotlight, and taking the credit. Ask anyone who’s been a part of Colorado Thought Leaders Forum for a while, and they’ll tell you that CTLF is proof that it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, unlike Mr. Robbins and many other so-called “experts,” we believe humility is not only important, but absolutely essential to effective leadership. Here’s why.
Unlike the traditional dynamic leader mindset, which has been thoroughly ingrained in our business schools and corporate culture for decades, humble leaders tend to value performing as a team rather than as an individual. Instead of their own achievements, they invest in people, helping others achieve more and sharing credit accordingly. We like the way Dr. Robert Hogan of Assessment Systems puts it in this insightful blog post:
“Humility in leadership does not imply the absence of ego or ambition. Rather, humble leaders are better able to channel their ambition back into the organization, rather than use it for personal gain.”
Humble leaders also freely admit they don’t have all the answers. They understand that the phrase “we’re all human” is more than a throwaway platitude. It’s an incontrovertible truth. Everyone makes mistakes. But they also understand the other side of that coin—mistakes can be turned into opportunities to learn and grow. Not surprisingly, humility in leadership often leads to better employee engagement, improved job satisfaction, and lower turnover.
While humility has historically not made the top of leadership attributes lists, we believe that’s about to change. And we’re not alone here. A recent article in Fast Company lists several great reasons why humility is a great leadership quality. Humble leaders:
- Don’t abuse their authority
- Constantly look to promote others
- Model support and collaboration
- Model integrity and trust
- Are supportive of their staff
- Are able to admit mistakes and shortcomings
- Are the first to take responsibility and last to take credit
SmartBrief contributing author Sabrina Horn even goes so far as to call humility a “leadership superpower.”
“Humility is a superpower in leadership. It is about knowing what you don’t know and having the curiosity, authenticity, and confidence to put that out there so that you and your team can find the answers.”
Point to Ponder
Great leaders understand that the relationship between confidence and humility is a continuously evolving mixture of exploration and introspection. They know themselves and their limitations well, routinely esteeming others and giving credit where credit is due for the benefit of the organization.