The Humble Leader

You want to know one of the secrets to great leadership? It’s balancing self-confidence and humility.   Obviously, you need to have talent to be a great leader – that’s a given.  You need to have the experience, drive, and opportunity to make big things happen.  And then, every leader needs to carry him or herself with a certain degree of confidence (otherwise, others will quickly lose faith).  But a lot of leaders go off the rails because they can’t control their confidence – it’s so off the charts that it becomes a liability, as it turns into arrogance, greed or recklessness.  You have to balance self-confidence with humility.  You have to remember that you don’t have all the answers, and even if you did, you shouldn’t act like you do.  Nobody likes to work for someone who projects that kind of arrogance.

So how do you develop humility? First, you simply have to ask others for their opinion, and then, you have to listen to what they have to say.  Let me repeat that – great leaders seek answers from those around them.  They never fail to gather opinions and suggestions from trusted advisors.  Ask yourself – “do I regularly ask others for their thoughts on matters of strategy, planning, or operations, and do I factor those opinions into my final decisions?”  If they answer is yes, great – you’re being an inclusive leader.  If the answer is no, well, this just in – your people don’t enjoy working for you.  Yes, that’s right – this one behavior (“I know best and will make all decisions unilaterally”) guarantees you a spot in the ABHOF – the Awful Boss Hall of Fame.  Think back to a time when you worked for a manager who never asked for your opinion, and made all of the decisions without including you or your peers.  Have a lot of good times with that boss, did you?  Of course not.  So if this sounds like you, the first thing you have to do is to ask others for their best thinking – early and often.  Make this a permanent part of your leadership – it’s actually very easy to do.  Every time a major decision come along (don’t worry, you’ll recognize them), ask a few peers or direct reports one or more of the following questions: “How would you assess the risks here?” “What pros and cons do you see in this situation?” “How can we best leverage this situation?’ “What are some of the implications of not making this decision?”  Simply put, if a decision or action is required, seek some input.  Not hard to remember, and not hard to do.

The definition of humility is “the quality or condition of being humble; of having a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc.” That’s really it, isn’t it?  Humble leaders don’t think of themselves as being any more important than anyone else in the organization.  In fact, they see themselves more as the conductor of the orchestra; they’re not making any of the actual music, that work is being done by the other members of the team.  You want to take your leadership to the next level?  Add a dash of humility to your skill set – you’ll certainly notice the difference.  And then, pay attention to how others are responding to you – trust me, they’ll appreciate it.