Leadership Qualities: Humility.


Humility and Leadership

Great leaders remind diverse group members of their common humanity and shared objectives through acts of humility.  

So, imagine the entire world watching the clock with bated breath for an expectant mother to deliver a long anticipated baby.  Sound like the promised Christ child?  However, this child is a modern day global royal – Prince Harry and Meghan’s baby.  Born this morning at 5:26 am, just days short of their first wedding anniversary, the little boy is a delight to his parents.  But, it was in Prince Harry’s first public appearance as the proud husband and undoubtedly thrilled father, that he showed his humility.  Not only did he admit that he was inexperienced in observing birth, but he also admitted that he never knew what it cost women to deliver their beloved babies all around the world.  

According to the Oxford Dictionary (2019), humility is “The quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance” (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/humility). Through expressing humility, the leaders allow others a glimpse of their humanity and imperfections with the intent of setting them at ease to be their best.  

In a comparison study of leadership across different cultures, the Catalyst Group found that humility is critical.  When more than 1500 workers from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico, and the U.S., were surveyed, the results revealed that employees feel more included when their managers showed altruistic (selfless) behavior.  This style was characterized by:

  1. acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes);
  2. empowering followers to learn and develop;
  3. acts of courage, such as taking personal risks for the greater good; and
  4. holding employees responsible for results (Prime & Salib, 2014).

The results were true for both men and women.  What was clear from the table below is that employees who saw their managers as altruistic described themselves as more innovative at work by suggesting ways of improving their work and new products.  Additionally, they were more likely to engage in team citizenship behavior, which includes going beyond the call of duty and , picking up the slack for an absent colleague (in Prime & Salib, 2014; https://hbr.org/2014/05/the-best-leaders-are-humble-leaders).

Owens, Johnson and Mitchell (2013) also found evidence for how people observe humility in others, how expressed humility may compensate for lower general mental ability of team members, and the relationship between leader-expressed humility and employee retention (https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.1120.0795).  

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less” (Rick Warren, 2007).

In another study of companies around the world, Jim Collins (2014) identified the Level 5 Leadership.  Where at the 5th and highest level, leaders distinguish themselves by their commitment to purpose and their humility, moving their companies from good to great!

Humility is associated with minimizing status differences, listening to subordinates, soliciting input, admitting mistakes and being willing to change course when a plan seems not to work” (Robert Hogan).

According to Dr. Hogan humble leaders listen to feedback and are willing to acknowledge mistakes, ultimately changing direction if they are wrong. And, 50% of all business decisions are wrong! So, they must create working environments that are open, transparent and democratic (Higginbottom, 2018; https://www.forbes.com/sites/karenhigginbottom/2018/07/18/the-value-of-humility-in-leadership/#1b586b3624e9).

Want to improve team innovation and engagement?  Here are a few suggestions to cultivating humility:

  1. Be open to others’ opinions
  2. Tend to others’ needs
  3. Admit mistakes
  4. Accept ambiguity
  5. Self-reflect
  6. Let people do their jobs (Moran, 2014; https://www.fastcompany.com/3034144/6-ways-humility-can-make-you-a-better-leader).

Leaders prepare for every eventuality. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Read more in Be Prepared at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/KeishaAMitchellPhD and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfPWaPCJ0vE  .

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