Humility and Leadership

humility and leadership“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”~ Thomas Merton

Good leaders are humble. I know in this current environment it’s hard to see and appreciate the truly humble leader but I think you will find they actually outnumber those who are not. Humility is not a weakness, it is a strength. To be able to look at oneself and assess what is and is not successful or working, is self-awareness. Self-awareness is one of the most important scores on the emotional intelligence inventory. It’s the key to really being able to access any of the other important characteristics of a good leader.

Good leaders always look back and do a debrief on a project, initiative, strategy or goal– what went well, what did not go well, and what will we do differently next time. Great leaders also do one of themselves. How did they do in the situation? What went well, what did not, and what will they change about themselves? No one is perfect or even great 90% of the time. The reality is things go badly sometimes. The best leaders show up in those bad times, not only when it’s going well. A humble leader lets others take credit when everyone is winning and takes responsibility when things go wrong – and importantly, always provide lessons and mentoring along the way.

A few keys to humble leadership:

  • Lead the way but let others go ahead of you
  • Always tell the truth
  • Give credit where credit is due
  • Mentor
  • Assume you aren’t the smartest one in the room
  • Let others shine
  • Confront the “ugly” with caring, compassion, and calm, but don’t ignore it
  • Surround yourself with those who are smarter than you
  • Celebrate the victories, not yourself
  • Realize every person’s contribution is valid and valuable
  • Listen to criticism for what you can learn, respect the giver
  • Remember that luck does play a role

Humble leaders are often not named, they work behind the scenes, promote others and the organization’s goals, preferring to stay out of the limelight. They make the tough decisions because they are the right decisions, not because it is easy or popular. They care more about the whole than themselves. Jim Collins talks about this in “Good To Great” – that humility is a trait of great leaders. If we’re only concerned about ourselves, our win, our performance, we can’t achieve greatness because leadership is not an individual sport, without followers, the leader is unnecessary.

No one’s greatness needs to be shouted from the rooftops, emblazoned on buildings or constantly emphasized to followers as if they might leave or forget. Great leadership is quiet, actions speak louder than words and legacy speaks louder than all. Those who have been inspired, mentored and helped will be the ones to carry it forward.

photo credit: Ken Whytock Quotation: Humility means being open to the idea that you’re not right. via photopin (license)