9 Reasons Humility Is the Key Ingredient to Exceptional Leadership
Real leaders tell you how great their teams are. Posers tell you how great they are.
The people we admire and feel most inspired to follow are those who do not have a need to showboat their accomplishments or convince others of their greatness. Showboats are more of a turn-off than a turn-on when it comes to leadership. We are most inspired by leaders who show exceptional character, who take pride in who they are and in what they have accomplished. Humble leaders use their skills, knowledge and experience to bring people together to increase sales, improve production or quality, and give back to the community. Leaders who come from humility use their success for the greater good, rather than for self-aggrandizement.
A sense of humility is vital to great leadership because it authenticates a person’s humanity. We are all human, and therefore, all flawed and vulnerable in our own unique ways. Great leaders have a depth of understanding, garnered from their experience, as to where their inherent strengths and weakness lie. This type of self-awareness is paramount to the development of humility. When leaders come off as perfect, people aren’t nearly as drawn to follow them because they feel they could never be authentic, vulnerable or accepted by someone of such high status. Being self-revealing is what brings people into connection. It is what makes people feel safe and accepted, and it is the part of each person that is open to guidance, coaching and self-improvement.
2. Balanced authority.
We are the most repulsed by loud, egotistical authority figures who lead from narrow mindedness, my-way-or-the-highway fear tactics, shame, threats and intimidation to get the results they want. Rank certainly brings status and power, but humble leaders do not use their rank as a platform to abuse. They use their position to encourage others, and to delegate authority and responsibility to those capable of doing the work. When humility is present, leaders act more like a “player’s coach.” Their position of authority is used to establish order and discipline between team members. These leaders are on the front lines helping their team to know, understand and pursue their individual and collective goals.
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3. Promote others.
Those who lead from humility understand the best way to prepare their team for success is to encourage, support and promote their team to believe in their own potential for success. Exceptional leaders are groomers of skill and talent, but more importantly they promote the value of hard work. The harder someone works, the more compelling it is for a leader to promote that person beyond their current level of success. Humble leaders will even promote those they’ve helped groom into higher positions than their own. Promoting others is done to better the person, and to enhance the overall effectiveness of the collective organization. Because they lead from humility they have a natural understanding of the bigger picture; the more successful the enterprise the greater its leadership.
4. Acknowledge others.
We all need to feel a sense of our own significance from a genuinely respected source. Humble leaders focus on the strengths in their team members and acknowledge them with an unwavering belief. The more a leader acknowledges the strengths of their team members, the more motivated team members will be to succeed. Criticizing and cutting people down to drive success may show short-term results, but will later prove to produce high levels of burnout and employee turnover. Leaders who operate from humility would never consider bullying their team members to produce fear-driven successes. When people feel acknowledged they feel successful. Further, humble leaders understand the importance of acknowledging when something didn’t work. They coach their team members individually and collectively on what went wrong, they develop new strategies, and send their team back into the field to try again. If the team went wrong, humble leaders know they were a part of that equation. Humility breeds humility.
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Success is better gained from a mindset of collaboration rather than competition. Collaborative leadership views team members from a place of equality, with each possessing their own set of skills. Each player is coached to best serve their specific purpose, role and assignment on the team. When there is too much emphasis on competition between team members it creates chaos, dishonesty, and a lack of fairness. An overvalued competitive mindset destroys cohesion because each team member feels insecure. When team members aren’t constantly vying for a position, they work much smarter, life becomes much freer, and succeeding more joyful.
6. Good sport.
Business is a game of we win some and we lose some. Great leaders reframe losing to learning. There is no such a thing as a total loss. When being lead from humility, team members know that losing one battle is not indicative of losing the war. It is through great loss and sometimes even great tragedy that teams and businesses have the greatest opportunities to improve, grow and thrive. When it comes to winning and succeeding, humble leaders welcome each victory with a sense of grace and dignity and encourage their team members to do the same.
Leaders who possess humility have developed this character trait through much success and much suffering. Through both trial and error, they have developed into resilient, intuitive, hard-working, and incredibly experienced people. They honor their knowledge and experience and do not fail to put themselves, or more importantly the ideas of their team, forward. Great leaders do not allow themselves or their team members to get overlooked. Being humble does not, in any way, equate to being a pushover. One can be kind and still be immensely effective and powerful.
Leaders who operate from humility did not build their reputation on a set of false, loud, flashy pretenses. They do not seduce others with fancy words not backed by subsequent action. These are leaders are people others can depend upon. They do what they say, and say what they do. There is no falsity to their word. Their word is as strong as oak. Their Yes is a Yes and their No a No. They are community oriented and believe the best way to lead and bring people together is to do so with high levels of integrity; where each person is clear on their roles, duties and goals of the overall team.
We live in an overly entitled narcissistic world today with many leaders falling short of possessing the powerful character trait of humility. The most impactful way to lead others is to be mindful of inclusion, and in the dropping of prejudices. Those who lead with humility welcome differences. They value what each person brings to the table, and are thankful for the diversity each person adds to the team. They are grateful for all the resources provided to them, and the opportunities they have with their team to compete with the best of the best. When it comes to accomplishments, humble leaders are always more grateful than prideful.
Sherrie Campbell is a psychologist in Yorba Linda, Calif., with two decades of clinical training and experience in providing counseling and psychotherapy services. She is the author of Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person. Her new book, Success Equations: A Path to an Emotionally Wealthy Life, is available for pre-order.