The world’s most successful leaders aren’t arrogant, and they don’t assume they know it all. Find out why humility is one of the most important characteristics of a great leader.
When you think about the qualities of a great leader, “humility” might not immediately spring to mind. But as it turns out, humility is a particularly critical skill for leaders.
Angela Sebaly, the author of “The Courageous Leader” and co-founder and CEO of Personify Leadership, says humble leaders are focused on the bigger picture of their organization and their team – rather than on themselves.
“Humility is about minimizing the self and maximizing the bigger purpose you represent,” Sebaly says. “When you think about humility in that way, it becomes a vital competency in leadership because it takes the focus from the ‘I’ to ‘We.’ Leaders with humility engage us and give us a sense of identity and purpose.”
Let’s explore what humility is and talk about some practical ways you can cultivate more of this important leadership quality.
What Is Humility?
Humility – the belief that you don’t have all the answers and aren’t the smartest person in every room – is the opposite of arrogance. It's all about embracing your own strengths and weaknesses and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the people around you.
Humble leaders constantly look for ways to promote others, support collaboration in teams, and inspire trust because they consistently keep their promises and back up their words with action. By definition, humble leaders also assume that they don’t know it all, ensuring a model of lifelong learning and listening that keeps them teachable and flexible.
In fact, a survey of computer product firms in the Journal of Management showed that when an organization has humble leaders, it results in better collaboration and higher-performing teams.
7 Ways to Cultivate Humility as a Leader
- Encourage people to speak up. Respect the natural differences of opinions that come from within your team, and work toward championing the best ideas, regardless of whether they come from an individual contributor or a C-Suite executive.
- When your team succeeds, recognize the contribution of others. Humble leaders credit their team members before taking recognition themselves.
- Admit your mistakes. Don’t blame others when things go wrong. Figure out what went awry and take responsibility, so you can hold yourself accountable and make changes going forward. Additionally, don’t shame your employees when they make mistakes.
- Be willing to accept constructive feedback. Humble leaders recognize that they are a work in progress. To cultivate humility, be open to honest feedback, and demonstrate thoughtful responses.
- Become an active listener. Humble people listen intently and are genuinely interested in learning from others. Put down your phone when other people are talking, listen without judgment, ask follow-up questions, and avoid the temptation to interrupt.
- Remain open to other people’s opinions, insights, and ideas. For example, if you’re running a meeting, let others weigh in on a question or issue before you state your ideas.
- Become a lifelong learner. There’s always more to learn, and humble leaders recognize that they don’t know it all. Your skills will always need refreshing, so build a culture of lifelong learning and look for training and development opportunities throughout your organization.