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7 Ways Humility Can Make You a Leader

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7 Ways Humility Can Make You a Leader

When you think of the worst leaders that you’ve encountered in your lifetime, what traits do you recall? Did they lead with a heavy hand? Did they exhibit poor communication skills? Or were they simply know-it-alls with no desire to learn from their peers and employees? What they almost certainly have in common is lack of humility. Unfortunately, humility is commonly not rewarded and self-promotion prevails. What many of these leaders haven’t discovered is that humility is an underrated and powerful leadership trait.

Jim Collins, a renowned management researcher, has invested years into studying what make companies successful. His article, Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve, published by the Harvard Business Review summarizes his research from a five-year study. Collins learned that out of 1,435 Fortune 500 companies, only 11 reached persistent success with stock returns three or more times the market. What these companies have in common is they have what Collins refers to as Level 5 Leaders at the helm. Level 5 Leaders possess a combination of two important skills: humility and professional will.

Can you learn humility or is it a natural trait? Keep reading to learn 7 behaviors implicit of those who possess humility and how it makes them successful leaders.

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1. They Don’t Toot Their Own Horns

Jim Collins is quoted as saying “Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless.” Think about the leaders that you respect. Do they boast about their accomplishments, intelligence and experience, or is their understated but obvious confidence enough to build your admiration?

When we ponder the best leaders in history who possess the duality that Collins discusses, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and Eleanor Roosevelt come to mind. These leaders displayed confidence, strength and boldness, without tooting their own horns. They gave credit where credit was due and also exhibited a fierce will to succeed in their missions.

2. They Get Their Hands Dirty

When business leaders are in touch with their employees and customers, they make better decisions about their businesses and build rapport. Leaders in any type of organization and at any level can ultimately be successful by being in touch and joining with the people in the trenches. This practice is referred to as MBWA “Managing By Wandering Around,” which was originally coined by John Young, President of Hewlett Packard, and was made famous by management guru Tom Peters.

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If you want to stand out in a time when a top-down management approach is popular, make an effort to get to know the people in your organization and step into their roles to understand the events that you would otherwise miss. For example, the undeniable leader Steve Jobs, although considered a narcissist by many, demonstrated qualities of humility by getting his hands dirty. CNN reported that Jobs personally responded to some customer service requests while at Apple.

3. They Empower Those Around Them

Leaders who manage with a heavy hand and don’t gather input from their employees are less successful than those who trust their employees. Contrary to this, leaders who possess humility empower others around them to make decisions. Effective leaders hire the best resources and trust them. When they know they have the right people on board, they follow a bottom-up management style, which empowers employees to assist in the process of making decisions about the actions necessary to attain goals. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

4. They Don’t Play the Blame Game

When success occurs, leaders who exhibit humility give credit to their team members and to other factors. If failure occurs, they accept responsibility for it. What many leaders don’t realize is that accepting blame actually empowers them to take responsibility to fix the problem. For example, imagine you’re the leader of a sales organization and your sales team is not performing at a level that’s acceptable. A leader who doesn’t exhibit humility might blame the marketing team for lack of leads, the product team for poor product or others involved in the sales process. A leader who exhibits humility blames oneself and develops a plan to improve performance.

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5. They Think Long-Term

Leaders who make quick decisions in order to fix something today that will in no way benefit the organization in the long-term are not acting with humility. A great example of making short-term decisions is the common practice of profitable companies downsizing in order to appease shareholders. Typically, layoffs reduce expenses so the numbers are favorable in the short-term, which increases the stock price. This short-term fix doesn’t put long-term profits or employee productivity at top of mind. It typically hurts employee morale, puts more stress on the employees who survive the layoff and hinders progress. Thinking long term keeps companies relevant for employees, customers and shareholders for years to come.

6. They Exhibit Social Responsibility

Corporate leaders who possess humility strive to elicit positive social change. For example, USA Today reported that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said, “You can achieve the fragile balance between profitability and the social conscience and as a result of that your company can do better and success is best when it is shared.” For corporations, examples of  social responsibility include providing time off for employees to volunteer, matching employee’s charitable donations, reducing environmental footprints and practicing ethical sourcing. For leaders of smaller groups, volunteering and performing other charitable acts sets an example for others in your organization and shows humility.

7. They Are Dedicated to the Growth of People

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Leaders who possess humility are dedicated to the professional and personal growth of the people in their businesses or organizations. They don’t hold information close to their vests; rather they practice mentoring and provide guidance to other individuals by passing on important skills, information and other knowledge. They take the time to invest in young employees, next-generation leaders and those who are new to their organization.

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Featured photo credit: Applause/Barney Moss via flic.kr

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Marilyn Rogers

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Last Updated on November 18, 2021

10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

  • honest
  • reliable
  • competent
  • kind and compassionate
  • capable of taking the blame
  • able to persevere
  • modest and humble
  • pacific and can control anger.

The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Abigail Van Buren

3. How does this person take the blame?

Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

5. Read their emails.

Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

  • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
  • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
  • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
  • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
  • Too many question marks can show anger
  • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

6. Watch out for the show offs.

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

8. Their empathy score is high.

Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

Stendhal

 10. Avoid toxic people.

These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

  • Envy or jealousy
  • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
  • Complaining about their own lack of success
  • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
  • Obsession with themselves and their problems

Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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