Humility and Leadership – What?
It doesn’t seem right.
Many people have a hard time wrapping their brains around the idea of a humble leader. Quiet leaders and powerful leadership don’t seem to mix. But here’s the truth, humble leaders are effective and powerful.
I asked my good friend Google to identify humble leaders. Here’s are some examples that Google gave me: Barack Obama, Mahatma Gandhi, Warren Buffett, Mother Theresa, and more… but, not a lot more. Humble leaders are rare and are being sought after by organizations more now than before because of how effective their leadership is.
Humility: No special treatment required.
Humility simply means that you don’t believe your positive qualities and life achievements entitle you to any kind of special treatment from others.
This is different from the way many think of humility, namely that being humble means downplaying your strengths and your achievements.
Humility is a powerful force, because the humble leader will quietly, deliberately and steadily make a huge impact without fanfare. Many think that leaders who are bold and outgoing are the only type of leader and one who is quiet and humble is not viewed the same way; this is their superpower because they are underestimated.
The test of humility: Psychology researchers Chloe Banker and Mark Leary, Ph.D., asked over 400 people to describe and rate their own accomplishments and positive characteristics. The participants were also asked how special they felt they were for having these qualities, and how they should be treat based on them. Lastly, participants were surveyed about their humility.
What they found: Humble people didn’t think they deserved special treatment for their accomplishments and positive traits. They were pleased but were realistic about their skills and limitations.
Humility and academic performance
Bradley Owens a researcher on humility, examined the performance of 144 undergraduate students in a management course. The students were asked to rate one another on nine statements like:
This person takes notice of the strengths 0f others.
- This person shows appreciation for the unique contributions of others
- This person is open to the advice of others
These participants were tracked on their performance over the year. Humility ratings were found to be a better predictor of performance than actual intelligence. The humblest achieved better grades than those who had higher opinions of themselves. Why? Because those with the greatest humility, identified gaps in their knowledge or skills and corrected them. They made the greatest improvements because they were teachable. Other research confirmed that humbler students were more curious and willing to learn.
Humility and the leader, team and organization
Good to Great, author Jim Collins identified humility as key to great leadership. His research has shown that leaders who have organizational transformation are quiet and deliberate in their approach. They have the following traits:
- They think about the success of their company first.
- They plan for succession.
- They are modest and rarely like to talk about themselves or their achievements.
- They prefer to share the credit with others.
- In times of failures they take responsibility.
In addition humble leaders have been found to be positively associated with job satisfaction, work engagement, retention, and empowering climates.
Bradley Owens and David Heckman discovered that leader humility helps to: inspire others to their highest levels, continually learn and adapt, foster a collective team humility, and improve the bottom line.
Those who lead by example and model humble behaviour create a loyal team. This in turn leads to a team that acknowledges and appreciates one another’s strengths, is open to feedback and is responsible for their own actions.
Demonstrating humility – when theory and research meets life
Is humility learnable? I guess it depends on the person and what their own internal values are. One thing I didn’t talk about was false or fake humility. People can tell if your humility is real or not and false humility will not have the same impact.
What is it that humble leaders do that makes them so successful?
- They serve others. They are focused on the goal, others, and the situation – not themselves. Humble people share the credit and wealth, they remain focused and hungry to continue the journey of success
- They build and nurture relationships and as a result, are likely to have better relationships because they are helpful and accepting of people.
- They actively listen to others before summarizing the conversation. They don’t try to dominate a conversation or talk over people. They’re eager to understand others because they’re curious.
- They’re continuous learners, they know that they don’t have all the answers and look for opportunities to learn.
- They speak their minds and if they are wrong, they are willing to learn and change course.
- They say, “Thank You” and are courteous and respectful of others. They practice good manners and civility.
- They have an abundance and gratitude mentality; there is plenty to go around whether it is opportunity, money or business, and it takes communication and working with others.
- They accept feedback and constructive criticism because it is the way to improve.
- They assume responsibility and don’t blame others.
They ask for help because they know they don’t have all the answers.
So, what…Don’t discount the humble leader!
Humility is a better predictor of performance and success than actual intelligence. It is closely associated with other positive qualities such as sincerity, modesty, fairness, truthfulness, and genuineness.
Something to think about:
Who comes to mind when you think of someone who is humble?
How effective are they?
How do you feel when you think of them?
Can you be sometimes humble and sometimes not?