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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

Marketing Consultant | Content Strategist | Freelance Writer

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Last Updated on April 6, 2020

10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

Most discussions on positively influencing others eventually touch on Dale Carnegie’s seminal work, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Written more than 83 years ago, the book touches on a core component of human interaction, building strong relationships. It is no wonder why.

Everything that we do hinges on our ability to connect with others and formulate deep relationships. You cannot sell a house, buy a house, advance in most careers, sell a product, pitch a story, teach a course, etc. without building healthy relationships. Managers get the best results from their teams, not through brute force, but to careful appeals to their sensibilities, occasional withdrawals from the reservoir of respect they’ve built. Using these tactics, they can influence others to excellence, to productivity, and to success.

Carnegie’s book is great. Of course, there are other resources too. Most of us have someone in our lives who positively influences us. The truth is positively influencing people is about centering the humanity of others. Chances are, you know someone who is really good at making others feel like stars. They can get you to do things that the average person cannot. Where the requests of others sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, the request from this special person sounds like music to your ears. You’re delighted to not only listen but also to oblige.

So how to influence people in a positive way? Read on for tips.

1. Be Authentic

To influence people in a positive way, be authentic. Rather than being a carbon copy of someone else’s version of authenticity, uncover what it is that makes you unique.

Discover your unique take on an issue and then live up to and honor that. Once of the reasons social media influencers are so powerful is that they have carved out a niche for themselves or taken a common issue and approached it from a novel or uncommon way. People instinctually appreciate people whose public persona matches their private values.

Contradictions bother us because we crave stability. When someone professes to be one way, but lives contrary to that profession, it signals that they are confused or untrustworthy and thereby, inauthentic. Neither of these combinations bode well for positively influencing others.

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2. Listen

Growing up, my father would tell me to listen to what others said. He told me if I listened carefully, I would know all I needed to know about a person’s character, desires and needs.

To positively influence others, you must listen to what is spoken and what is left unsaid. Therein lies the explanation for what people need in order to feel validated, supported and seen. If a person feels they are invisible, and unseen by their superiors, they are less likely to be positively influenced by that person.

Listening meets a person’s primary need of validation and acceptance.

Take a look at this guide on how to be a better listener: How to Practice Active Listening (A Step-By-Step Guide)

3. Become an Expert

Most people are predisposed to listen to, if not respect, authority. If you want to positively influence others, become an authority in the area in which you seek to lead others. Research and read everything you can about the given topic, and then look for opportunities to put your education into practice.

You can argue over opinions. You cannot argue, or it is unwise to argue, over facts and experts come with facts.

4. Lead with Story

From years of working in the public relations space, I know that personal narratives, testimonials and impact stories are incredibly powerful. But I never cease to be amazed with how effective a well-timed and told story can be.

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If you want to influence people, learn to tell stories. Your stories should be related to the issue or concept you are discussing. They should be an analogy or metaphor that explains your topic in ordinary terms and in vivid detail. To learn more about how to tell powerful stories, and the ethics of storytelling, take a look at this article: How To Tell An Interesting Story In 4 Simple Steps

5. Lead by Example

It is incredibly inspiring to watch passionate, talented people at work or play. One of the reasons a person who is not an athlete can be in awe of athletic prowess is because human nature appreciates the extraordinary. When we watch the Olympics, Olympic trials, gymnastic competitions, ice skating, and other competitive sports, we can recognize the effort of people who day in and day out give their all. C

ase in point: Simone Biles. The gymnast extraordinaire won her 6TH all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships after doing a triple double. She was the first woman to do so. Watching her gave me chills. Even non-gymnasts and non-competitive athletes can appreciate the talent required to pull off such a remarkable feat.

We celebrate remarkable accomplishments and believe that their example is proof that we too can accomplish something great, even if it isn’t qualifying for the Olympics. To influence people in a positive way, we must lead by example, lead with intention and execute with excellence.

6. Catch People Doing Good

A powerful way to influence people in a positive way is to catch people doing good. Instead of looking for problems, look for successes. Look for often overlooked, but critically important things that your peers, subordinates and managers do that make the work more effective and more enjoyable.

Once you catch people doing good, name and notice their contributions.

7. Be Effusive with Praise

It did not take me long to notice a remarkable trait of a former boss. He not only began and ended meetings with praise, but he peppered praise throughout the entire meeting. He found a way to celebrate the unique attributes and skills of his team members. He was able to quickly and accurately assess what people were doing well and then let them and their colleagues know.

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Meetings were not just an occasion to go through a “To Do” list, they were opportunities to celebrate accomplishments, no matter how small they are.

8. Be Kind Rather Than Right

I am going to level with you; this one is tough. It is easy to get caught up in a cycle of proving oneself. For people who lack confidence, or people who prioritize the opinions of others, being right is important. The validation that comes with being perceived as “right” feeds one’s ego. But in the quest to be “right,” we can hurt other people. Once we’ve hurt someone by being unkind, it is much harder to get them to listen to what we’re trying to influence them to do.

The antidote to influencing others via bullying is to prioritize kindness above rightness. You can be kind and still stand firm in your position. For instance, many people think that they need others to validate their experience. If a person does not see the situation you experienced in the way you see it, you get upset. But your experience is your experience.

If you and your friends go out to eat and you get food poisoning, you do not need your friends to agree that the food served at the restaurant was problematic for you. Your own experience of getting food poisoning is all the validation you need. Therefore, taking time to be right is essentially wasted and, if you were unkind in seeking validation for your food-poison experience, now you’ve really lost points.

9. Understand a Person’s Logical, Emotional and Cooperative Needs

The Center for Creative Leadership has argued that the best way to influence others is to appeal to their logical, emotional and cooperative needs. Their logical need is their rational and educational need. Their emotional need is the information that touches them in a deeply personal manner. The cooperative need is understanding the level of cooperation various individuals need and then appropriately offering it.

The trick with this system is to understand that different people need different things. For some people, a strong emotional appeal will outweigh logical explanations. For others, having an opportunity to collaborate will override emotional connection.

If you know your audience, you will know what they need in order to be positively influenced. If you have limited information about the people whom you are attempting to influence, you will be ineffective.

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10. Understand Your Lane

If you want to positively influence others, operate from your sphere of influence. Operate from your place of expertise. Leave everything else to others. Gone are the days when being a jack of all trades is celebrated.

Most people appreciate brands that understand their target audience and then deliver on what that audience wants. When you focus on what you are uniquely gifted and qualified to do, and then offer that gift to the people who need it, you are likely more effective. This effectiveness is attractive.

You cannot positively influence others if you are more preoccupied by what others do well versus what you do well.

Final Thoughts

Influencing people is about centering your humanity. If you want to influence others positively, focus on the way you communicate and improve the relationship with yourself first.

It’s hard to influence others if you’re still trying to figure out how to communicate with yourself.

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Featured photo credit: Wonderlane via unsplash.com

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