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7 Ways Humility Can Make You a Leader

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 April 11, 2019

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

How Communication Skills Help Your Success

Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

Create a Positive Experience

Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

Help Leadership Skills

It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

Build Better Teams

Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

1. Listen

Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

2. Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

Here is a good way to think about it:

Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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3. Minimize

I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

4. Over Communicate

So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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5. Body Language

The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

Conclusion

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

Now go communicate your way to success.

More Resources About Effective Communication

Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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