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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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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Step right up, don’t be shy!

Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

Culturally Conditioned

We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

1. Broadens Your Network

After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

2. Improves Your Communication Skills

I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

3. Continually Learning

So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

4. Increases Self Confidence

Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

How to Talk to Strangers

Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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1. Say Hello

Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

2. Ask About Them

Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

3. Just Do It

One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

4. Don’t Take It Personal

One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

6. Detach

A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

7. Share Your Stories

Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

8. Give a Compliment

Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

9. Relax Your Body Language

If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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