The humble leader – humility as a strength in leadership

In an earlier blog, I spoke about quiet leadership and I’d like to continue that one with a few ideas around humility in leadership.   Far from being a weakness, humility can be a great strength in leadership.

A leader who displays humility is approachable.  Approachable people are trusted – and if people trust you, they tell you things. It’s difficult to lead an organisation when your staff are frightened to tell you what’s really happening and soft soap you to save their own skins or withhold some parts of the truth to protect themselves from you.  I’ll guarantee you that if you play the tough leader, you won’t know the half of what’s happening in your organisation.  People will take action and make decisions without your knowledge or blessing, crossing their fingers that they have done the right thing, because it seems safer than approaching you to discuss their ideas.  They would rather take the risk of getting something wrong than having to face you to effectively ask permission when you have erected walls around yourself.  If you don’t know your own organisation, it’s difficult to imagine how you can lead it effectively.

A leader who displays humility engenders loyalty.  If those around you know they can talk to you and have an adult conversation with you, they will demonstrate a great deal more loyalty to you.  If your failure to display humility is perceived as arrogance, they will talk about you behind your back, plot against you and, at worst, work against you.  Disloyalty and demotivation go hand in hand and demotivated people throw lots of energy into being unhappily emotional at the expense of being cheerfully productive.

A leader who displays humility stretches others.  Tell someone who reports to you that you have an idea which you would like to bounce around with them.  They’ll be flattered, motivated and eager to help.  Now you may already know the answer to the problem you’re presenting but this doesn’t matter – the very act of involving the other person shows you trust them, it involves them in the kind of decision making which is part of your working life and it motivates them to want to help.  Above all it stretches their thinking in ways in which their day job may not.

If you involve others in your decision making, then you are effectively starting your succession plan.  It pays for any ambitious leader to have others snapping at their heels, hungry for their job just as you, if you are genuinely ambitious, are snapping at someone else’s.  Now if you are only it for yourself, you won’t care about developing others to take your position when you move up a rung because your focus is solely on you, rather than the organisation.  If you have a real interest in the organisation, then succession planning is part of your responsibility – to ensure that as you move up the ranks, so there is someone behind already trained to slot into the role which you vacate.

You can’t be humble all the time.  Sometimes you have to make tough decisions, be directive and simply get on with things.  But a selective display of humility now and then will do wonders for your credibility and motivate those around you to do even better.

To discuss any aspect of leadership and management development or business consultancy, call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.

I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cotton is an independent trainer, management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.

About davidcottonuk
I'm an international trainer, speaker and facilitator. I've worked in 4 continents and 40 countries, delivering all aspects of leadership, management and behavioural skills training to local and national government and nearly every industry sector. I've written a dozen books, and scores of journal articles.

One Response to The humble leader – humility as a strength in leadership

  1. I totally agree with the article. However the path to humility is quite often invisible. The pressures of the current economic climate, leaders who are directly touching teh coal face of deals will revert to type under pressure in most cases. Unless your traits lend themselves to humilty, you will find a person just being who they are. That is not to say it is negative, but not necessarily humble. The real secret is the path to humilty and then how you stay on it. I have found that the most succesfull humble leaders, are quite often many layers of the organisation away from the coal face of teh operation. As a result, you develop humilty, because leadership becomes about influence and not being auticratic. Otherwise you teams would do just what was asked of them and not what was needed for the task to be successful.

    Sorry for the long comment, I have experinced a lot of crazy leaders.

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