Today’s leaders face innumerable challenges that previous generations never confronted: employee disengagement, cloud-based speed of commerce, political correctness, cultural diversity, social sensitivities and a hyper-focus on efficiency, among others. Pressure to succeed is higher than ever. Leaders know they must have an A-game, and they continually encounter methods that experts claim will improve proficiencies.
Humility, however, is an often-overlooked character trait that flies in the face of culturally accepted leadership norms. It may, in fact, be the most powerful attribute a leader can have to engage and inspire people. Leaders dream of motivated teams, yet many try to develop them in all the wrong ways.
For generations, workplace humility was seen as a detriment, not an advantage. Leaders believed organizations were best run with power, intimidation, authority and ego. Decisiveness, toughness and assertiveness were deemed leadership strengths. Facts and figures ruled the day, and leaders seldom prioritized employee needs.
These paradigms are still found in many corners of commerce. Old-school leaders regard softer skills as weaknesses. Unfortunately for them, the primary weakness in this mindset is results.
The word “humility” is plagued with negative connotations. Humble leaders may be erroneously viewed as unsure of themselves, permissive or unable to stand firm. Nothing can be further from the truth, and outdated leadership paradigms are responsible for countless organizational woes.
Employees want to contribute value and enjoy meaningful work. They need assurances that they’ll be given the opportunity to succeed at the tasks they’re assigned. They want to be valued, supported and encouraged. They’re looking for leaders who will connect with them and meet these needs.
Humble leaders are more adept at meeting people’s needs because they connect with them at the most basic human level, explain Merwyn A. Hayes and Michael D. Comer in Start with Humility: Lessons from America’s Quiet CEOs on How to Build Trust and Inspire Followers (CreateSpace, 2010).
When encountering humility, employees feel they are listened to and heard, and their best interests are served. Humility allows leaders to relate to their people more personably, fairly and reasonably. Humble leaders deemphasize their own importance by emphasizing their people’s worth.
A leader’s desire to meet people’s needs cultivates a loyal following and promotes positive responses. The entire organization benefits when people and practices operate optimally and life at work is enjoyable.
Before determining how best to reflect humility, it’s important to grasp what it is and what it looks like.
True humility is a response of noble character, based on a choice to regard the needs of others ahead of one’s own. At its heart, humility is characterized by a desire to serve and dedication to bettering others.
Humble leaders are fulfilled by helping others achieve fulfillment. A leader with a humble approach lifts people’s spirits, self-esteem and confidence, which enhances overall organizational life.
Hayes and Comer cite numerous humble behaviors, any of which can be clearly discerned when on display. Some of the more important ones are:
- Admitting mistakes
- Empowering people
- Actively listening
- Crediting others
- Demonstrating empathy
Other humble behaviors include honesty, kindness, sincerity and approachability, each of which sets the stage for more favorable employee responses and mutually beneficial relationships. Humble leaders exhibit behaviors that more effectively meet people’s needs—and when their needs are met, there’s no limit to what they can accomplish.
Assess Your Humility Level
Once you grasp the basic tenets of humility, you can more accurately gauge how well you exhibit it. Start by assessing your behavior and responses to the following questions. (You can work with a trusted colleague or coach to ensure you see yourself clearly.)
Do you frequently lose your temper? Perhaps you’re short with people or pressing your points without regarding theirs. If your employees try to avoid you or resist bringing up difficult topics, you may be overbearing. Focus on being calm and collected, and recognize the harm caused by a lack of kindness or empathy.
Are you a focused listener? Are people frustrated because they can’t complete their sentences with you? Do people’s comments indicate that you don’t understand their perspective? Eliminate distractions and make a deliberate effort to grasp everything someone is saying. Ask questions to verify what you were told.
Are you too focused on your own image? Do you build yourself up at others’ expense? Do their victories end up on your bragging list? Do you give your people a chance to present how they accomplished their tasks? Advance your reputation through your team’s exemplary track record.
Do you search for sources of blame when things go wrong? Are your stories getting more creative as you try to avoid judgment? Admit that you don’t know everything and you’re open to learning new ways to improve efficacy and productivity.
Leaders can certainly change—at least to a degree. Behavioral adjustments and upgrades are possible, but they take work. An entire overhaul of your behavior is generally not workable and may indicate you’re not in the correct role.
Hayes and Comer point out that a cognitive decision to improve is only the first step in practicing humility. Change is proportional to the effort you put into it. Lasting results are achieved only after rigorously practicing new behaviors.
Training your brain requires focus, repetition and ongoing feedback from others. Consider hiring a qualified professional coach to help you adopt a humbler approach to leadership. The rewards are well worth the investment.
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor
- Executive Coaching
- Mindful Leadership
- Attorney Coaching
- Emotional Intelligence and Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ) Workshops
For more information, please go to https://www.workingresources.com, write to email@example.com, or call 415-546-1252
55 New Montgomery Street, Suite 505
San Francisco, California 94105