The Humble Leader
About the Superpower Called Humility
Photo by Anne Gosewehr
“the most important thing is;
humble enough to know that
you’re still learning.”
from Note to Self by Lunar
The Leadership Freak, in a recent newsletter, summed up all the misconceptions around being a humble leader. He stated, “humility isn’t:
1. Slow and stupid.
2. Afraid to acknowledge strengths and talents.
3. Passive and weak.
4. Easily manipulated.
5. Satisfied with mediocrity.
6. Disinclined to bring up tough issues.
7. Reluctant to act.”
Those seven misconceptions really illustrate well why so many leaders lose or never possess humility. Who wants to be viewed as weak and manipulated?
As a consequence, leaders become overly obsessed with outcomes and control and, therefore, treat their employees as a means to an end. This, in turn, creates fear — fear of not hitting targets, fear of losing bonuses, fear of failing — and as a consequence, people stop feeling positive emotions, and their drive towards innovation is stifled.
The obvious question is, how can this be avoided. Dan Cable provides the answer: “… one of the best ways is to adopt the humble mind-set of a servant leader. Servant leaders view their key role as serving employees as they explore and grow, providing tangible and emotional support as they do so.
To put it bluntly, servant-leaders have the humility, courage, and insight to admit that they can benefit from the expertise of others who have less power than them. They actively seek the ideas and unique contributions of the employees that they serve. This is how servant leaders create a culture of learning, and an atmosphere that encourages followers to become the very best they can.”
Humility is a superpower:
- It is the ability to serve something bigger than self. Because hubris always serves itself even when it appears to serve others.
- It comes with honesty. Arrogance lies and misleads to protect image, status, and position. Humble leaders look you in the eye and speak the truth with kindness.
- It comes with the willingness to learn. Because while arrogance appears/pretends to know, humility learns, benefiting from mistakes and failure.
Case in point: A survey of 105 computer software and hardware firms published in the Journal of Management revealed that humility in CEOs led to higher-performing leadership teams, increased collaboration and cooperation, and flexibility in developing strategies.
If it is a superpower, how can you assess whether someone possesses it, e.g., during an interview? Humble leaders don’t wear a cape and fly. Jeff Hyman, in a Forbes article, provides the list of things to look and ask for:
Do they credit others? If a candidate fails to acknowledge the contributions of others in helping to achieve their successes, it’s a red flag.
Do they admit to mistakes? A humble person not only admits to making mistakes; they seek to understand what they did wrong and what they should change going forward. Be especially careful of candidates who blame others and exempt themselves from responsibility.
Do they accept constructive feedback? Does the candidate admit to receiving criticism in previous jobs? How did they respond? Ideally, the candidate will acknowledge the validity of the feedback and demonstrate a thoughtful response.
Do they strive to overcome their weaknesses? We all have skill gaps. Has the candidate recognized their own and sought to improve?
Do they help others? In prior jobs, did the candidate demonstrate that they cared about their direct reports, gave them the tools and training, and helped to advance their careers?
And at the end, Jeff Hyman concludes: “We tend to be impressed by charismatic candidates with powerful personalities and a commanding presence. My advice: dig deeper. Your gut reaction is often wrong. Search for quiet confidence, humility and a focus on others.”
This is tremendously valuable advice.
Contact us if you would like to find out how interim or fractional sales leaders approach the topic.
Leadership Freak — How Humble Leadership Really Works
Dan Cable — How Humble Leadership Really Works
Jeff Hyman — Why Humble Leaders Make The Best Leaders
Journal of Management — Do Humble CEO’s Matter?
Originally published at https://www.vendux.org on October 27, 2020.