Higher performing teams. Stronger teamwork and collaboration. Higher levels of flexibility that lead to more innovation and creative problem-solving.
How can leaders achieve those benefits, even in today’s ever-evolving, volatile times?
One secret ingredient to more impactful leadership: humility.
While Merriam-Webster defines humility as:
“freedom from pride or arrogance,”
my preferred notion of this word is:
In this light, we humans get the chance to evaluate where we are shining – and where we might want to improve. That’s it.
It’s never about humiliation (as I falsely understood from the church of my childhood) for being less than perfect. Because no one – no matter what role, organizational level or salary they might have – ever is. That’s at least one thing we all definitely have in common: having things to work on.
If fact, have you noticed that the first three letters of “humility” and “human” are the same? My take is that it’s because humility brings to light both sides of what it means to be human: to be both great at certain things and not so much on others all at the same time.
As the great philosopher Socrates said,
“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”
The important thing is remembering both are there: none of us is all good, and none of us is certainly all bad, either.
While humility may not always be the first trait that comes to mind as we contemplate great leaders, it has long been known that the ability to be humble – what scientists call “intellectual humility” – has far-reaching gains in leadership and in everyday life.
Millennials: A Driving Force in Humble Leadership?
While scientists verify the importance of humility, we may have millennials to thank for putting the concept into action – so much so that leadership trends are changing (yippee!):
Studies show that millennials often embrace a servant leadership style – one that emphasizes humility and collaboration. They tend to value the greater good of the organization (and beyond) versus a narrow vision that is self-driven.
What’s more, asserts a recent article in Fast Company, “As millennials are more inclined to leave jobs when they’re not feeling fulfilled, many organizations are paying attention to the type of leadership these workers thrive under, as well.”
Humility in Leaders: A Sought-After Trait
Today, humble leaders are increasingly sought after – and justifiably so – as more and more organizations are recognizing just how crucial the trait is in today’s workplace.
Why is that, exactly? The answers are obvious.
Through role-modeling vulnerability and their acceptance of both their own limitations and strengths, humble leaders:
- Promote a culture of inclusion, where a sense of belonging and respect are highly valued.
- Cultivate collaboration, so employees are more likely to bring their “full selves” to work.
- Set the standard for positive traits like integrity, trust, accountability & respect for others.
Deeply ingrained stereotypes often portray the “best” leaders as charismatic, overpowering, and yes – even obnoxious. But even in reading that line, many of us might be rolling our eyes – so fed up we are with such personalities who seem to be only out for themselves.
Indeed, research and real-life leadership experience tell a vastly different story: some of the most impactful leaders represent a powerful synergy of humility and deep resolve. “They are modest, self-effacing, understated, and fanatically driven by results,” write the authors in a Fast Company article highlighting why we need more humble leaders.
Moreover, humble leaders know how to inspire people to follow them because they attract through sincere care and an emphasis on collective excellence rather than through pushing their will on others. We all know how very different these two energies feel – and which one is a no-brainer to want more of.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.”
– C.S. Lewis
5 Everyday Tips to Be a Humble Leader
So, how can we all bring more humility into our leadership? It isn’t hard to incorporate these easy strategies into the work day:
- Be a great listener. Listen with intention. Too often, distractions tug at us, pulling us away from genuine conversation. Over time, something powerful manifests when we listen loudly: in addition to drawing people toward us more easily, we are also deriving more meaning from our exchanges.
- Practice empathy. Impactful leaders know the power of empathy. Empathy allows us to connect more strongly with those in our organization, which can foster a sense of loyalty and encourage a team spirit, all while inspiring others to cultivate empathy too.
- Welcome feedback of all kinds. Acknowledging our shortcomings is key. But we needn’t wait to fall short in order to glean helpful feedback. Whether it’s a few simple suggestions offered by a team member – or the expression of uncomfortable feelings that cuts to the core – consider how it can be used as an opportunity for learning and growth. But we needn’t wait to fall short in order to glean helpful feedback. Whether it’s a few simple suggestions offered by a team member – or the expression of uncomfortable feelings that cut us to the core – consider how it can be used as an opportunity for learning and growth. And, especially, remember to also celebrate what you are already doing well!
- Show gratitude. The ripple effects of practicing gratitude don’t stop at the workplace: Studies have long proven that gratitude improves well-being and health. People who are grateful live longer, their bodies heal more quickly, and they experience less depression. Who doesn’t want that?!
- Lift others up. Humble leaders almost universally emphasize the “we” – not the “me.” They don’t need to bask in the spotlight all the time. Rather, they lead from a place of openness, trust, integrity and authenticity to encourage inclusivity on teams and in the organization as a whole.
Now, go out there and inspire your team as you BOLDLY lead with humility today…
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Colleen Slaughter, Proud Executive Coach to the UN World Food Program, the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
As an Executive Coach for Women in Leadership and Transformational Facilitator, my intention is to help leaders in positions of high influence to understand their worth at a profound level.
Supporting women leaders to truly thrive and step into their greatness, while succeeding in male-dominated industries and spaces is my native genius.
My technique and approach show you how to achieve incredible career success without compromising any part of who you are and what makes you magnificent.