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5 Reasons Why Humility is Important in Leadership

5 Reasons Why Humility is Important in Leadership

What comes to mind when you picture the archetype of a leader? Is it a brash and enterprising executive like Richard Branson? A perfection-driven controller like Steve Jobs? The truth is that many of the best leaders are nothing like the stereotypes that usually come to mind. Instead, some of the most effective leaders replace brashness and boldness with deep focus and humble dedication to improvement.

As American Congressman Pete Hoekstra put it, “Real leadership is leaders recognizing that they serve the people that they lead.” The best leaders are not managers. They’re not bosses. They are often empathetic and driven servants who empower the people they lead.

So just what is it about humility that makes it such a pivotal characteristic in leaders? Here are just a few reasons humility is so key:

It fosters an environment of learning and improvement

“Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.” — Seth Godin

One of the most crucial roles of a leader in business is to teach employees, helping them gain new skills and become more proficient at their jobs. This leads to better results, better client retention, and, often, better employee retention. It also helps keep the company’s talent pool stocked, saving the company money on recruiting outside talent to fill management positions.

How does this humble fostering of learning and growth look in practice? Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations explained it this way: “Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.” Humble leaders shift the load from their own shoulders, allowing their employees to grow and improve by taking on more responsibility themselves.

It’s easier to follow a humble leader

“Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.” – Chinese Proverb

Brash, outspoken, and arrogant leaders (which many have begun to consider as the prototype for a “leader” in business) often become severely disconnected from their employees. They are often viewed as out of touch with the day to day rigmarole and therefore unaware of the needs of workers (whether this is true or not.)

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“The best managers are those who have an intimate knowledge of the needs of both their customers and their employees,” says Kevin Brogan, Vice President of Meadows Casino, a Pittsburgh casino currently seeing record revenue. These humble leaders are in tune with their teams and are often the most well-liked of leaders. They also tend to exhibit some of the same characteristics pointed out by former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, who famously said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

Humble leaders are more transparent

“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” — Arnold Glasow

One of the top trends in employee engagement right now is the growing popularity of transparency in business. In fact, research has shown a surprisingly high correlation between level of employee happiness and how highly they rate their company’s level of transparency.

Transparency can manifest itself in a number of ways (like Buffer’s transparent pricing undertaking,) but it often boils down to a willingness to share the good along with the bad. “I don’t mean that people need to be willing to fall on a sword,” Arron Grow, author of How to Not Suck as a Manager. “But we should own up to what we do. Sometimes it’s good to share that with others—that we’re not infallible.”

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Humble leadership empowers others

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” Ronald Reagan

Empowering others not only goes hand in hand with great leadership, it’s been said that empowering others is great leadership. And humble leaders do it as well as anyone. In fact, a study found that CEO humility was positively associated with empowering leadership in employees. In other words, humble CEOs have more empowered employees.

The leaders of the study went on to explain, “Humble people willingly seek accurate self-knowledge and accept their imperfections while remaining fully aware of their talents and abilities. They appreciate others’ positive worth, strengths, and contributions and thus have no need for entitlement or dominance over others.”

It’s what your employees are looking for

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” — Lao Tzu

The real power of humble leadership is the fact that, by and large, it’s the type of leadership employees are looking for. It keeps them from being micromanaged, it allows them to learn, it clues them into the inner workings of the company, and it inspires them to become leaders themselves. As Rob Nielsen, co-author of Leading with Humility put it, “When people are demonstrating (certain) behaviors—self-awareness, perspective, openness to feedback and ideas, and appreciation of others—employees are saying: ‘Yes I’m happier in my job; I actually can perform at a higher level.’ There is an association between the humble leadership behaviors and those outcomes.”

If you’re struggling with your results as a leader, it may be time to take a look in the mirror and determine which of these characteristics you might be missing. As Bill Gates said, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Humble leaders do exactly that.

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Jimmy Winskowski

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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