Real Leaders

7 Reasons Humility is Becoming a Highly Desired Leadership Trait

Happy young man looking at camera in working environment in office

When we think of some great leaders, humility may not come to the top of how we would describe them. The bigger-than-life leaders such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Bill Gates would likely be described as visionary, bold, and charismatic. Yet, if we look more closely, we find leaders like Richard Branson, who is humble and laid back. A survey of computer product firms published in the Journal of Management found that humble leaders resulted in higher-performing teams, better collaboration, and flexibility.

Other research has found that humble leaders are better listeners, more flexible, and inspire greater teamwork. Millennials make up over a third of the U.S. labor force and are changing the way we view leadership. The authoritarian leadership style is out, as is the flashy, ego-driven, self-serving, attention-seeking type. What is vogue is the servant type of leader, humble, collaborative, and driven by the well-being of the staff and the organization in service of the greater good. As millennials are not afraid to leave jobs when they are not feeling fulfilled and appreciated, organizations are paying more attention to the type of leadership they thrive in.  

Here are seven reasons that humble leaders are increasingly sought after. 

1. Do not abuse their authority. 

We have all heard horror stories of power-hungry, status-seeking leaders and their damage to those under them and ultimately to the organization. Humble leaders see themselves more as coaches and mentors, always looking for ways to encourage others and bring out the best in them. Instead of keeping authority and control, they look for ways to delegate and allow others to take on and expand their leadership potential.   

2. Constantly look to promote others. 

Humble leaders understand the need for others to succeed and are constantly looking for ways to develop and expand leadership opportunities of those that work for them. They promote based on skill, talent, hard work, and talent. Unlike self-serving leaders, they are not likely to be impressed by those who look to get ahead simply by ingratiating
themselves to those in positions of authority. Not having big egos that need to be stroked, they are less likely to be taken in by flattery and insincere attempts to get on their good side.  Their humility allows them to focus on the big picture and see how the organization’s overall success will be improved by developing authentic, deserving leaders.  

3. Model and support collaboration. 

Rather than having people competing with one another, humble leaders encourage and reward them for collaborating. This increases teamwork capabilities and results in increased trust among team members.  Heightened competition amongst team members results in mistrust, with time and energy spent on vying for a position rather than focusing on the team’s work. When collaboration becomes the norm, team members feel more relaxed and can bring their full abilities and skills to the workplace. 

4. Model integrity and trust. 

Humble leaders do not make promises that they do not keep or try to build up their reputations by shows of aggrandizement and pretense. With them, what you see is what you get. Instead of flashy words and talk, they back up what they say with action. Team and community-oriented, they are always looking for ways to help and don’t find any level of work in their organization to be beneath them. To learn more about the organization, they might be found pitching in to help in all situations that may require immediate attention. This kind of engagement earns them respect and trust from those that work under them. 

5. Supportive of their staff. 

Humble leaders look for opportunities to catch their staff doing something well and let them know at every opportunity. They will acknowledge when something went wrong but focus on solutions and learning opportunities rather than blame and punishment. Being humble does not mean they are pushovers. They can set firm boundaries and are open about what they look for in others. Those that work for a humble leader will know what is expected of them and not have to be worried about criticism, being called out in public, or humiliated in front of their coworkers. In my book, The Other Kind of Smart, I talk about the importance of appreciation and admitting mistakes. They know that even if they have made a mistake, they will be listened to, understood, and given the opportunity to make changes.  

6. Ready and able to admit their mistakes and shortcomings.

Humble leaders do not need to feel they have to be the smartest person in the room. They are secure enough in themselves that they do not feel threatened when others know more than they do. When they make mistakes, they openly admit to them, rather than trying to hide or cover them up. If someone comes up with a better idea than they have, they don’t feel it is beneath them to accept it. They don’t see vulnerability as a weakness; instead, they see it as a way of giving those that report to them permission to be so. This creates a less stressed, open, and emotionally healthy workplace for everyone, allowing everyone to be themselves and focus on their work. 

7. Are first to take responsibility and last to take credit. 

Humble leaders demonstrate that the buck stops with them and take responsibility when things don’t work out. On the other hand, they will graciously give credit to others when things go well. They have a team-first mindset, always looking for ways to support and get the most from their teams. When their teams do well, they seldom take credit themselves, realizing the importance of praise, appreciation, and acknowledgment to motivate their people to give their best.

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