This often misunderstood word first struck me in the context of leadership when Jim Collins mentioned it in his seminal book Good to Great.
Collins basically said that the best leaders direct their ego away from themselves to the larger goal of leading their company to greatness.
These leaders, as Collins determined in his study, gain an edge through displaying both fierce professional will and extreme personal humility. This paradoxical mix creates superb financial results.
Clearly, these Fortune 500 leaders don't walk inside board rooms having a low opinion of themselves, or thinking of themselves as "meek"--another bad definition for humility.
As mega pastor Rick Warren once said in The Purpose Driven Life, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."
In essence, humble leaders achieve greatness without arrogance. They shift from ego to humility which can drastically alter the outcome to their advantage.
10 ways humility leads to successful business outcomes.
How would raising the capacity for leadership humility change business, employee satisfaction and retention, or even customer loyalty?
Lets find out by looking at some examples in how humble leaders communicate, engage employees, and do business.
1. Humble Leaders Give Others Credit
Leaders who deflect the limelight away from them and allow their teams or subordinates to be in the limelight gain respect at an alarming rate. There is something very liberating for employees when they receive credit.
2. Humble Leaders Speak Authentically
Humble leaders refuse to cut corners and will speak their truth. They don't say things to sugarcoat, to try to please others or to try to look good in front of their peers. They don't betray themselves or others by using words or making decisions that are not aligned with who they are. That's why they usually have great reputations. When they make a promise they do everything possible to fulfill it. The actions fit the words.
3. Humble Leaders Admit Mistakes
Here are three magical words that will produce more peace of mind than a week's worth of executive coaching with me:
"I was wrong."
Here are three more:
"You are right."
4. Humble Leaders Are Teachable
Leaders in healthy organizations gladly accept the role of learners. Because they know it will make them better. They know that each person has something important to teach them. The truth is, good leaders don't always know what is needed and what to do. They ask questions, and are sincerely interested in the answers. This is even more important if you're a new manager with long-tenured employees who know more than you do. So it starts with being honest enough to say, "Hey, help me so I can help you."
5. Humble Leaders Listen to Understand First
Effective communication isn't just about talking; it is also the ability to listen and understand what's happening on the other side of the fence. Humble leaders will listen for meaning and understanding with the other person's needs in mind. The listening has one MO: how can I help this other person?
6. Humble Leaders Seek Input
They seek others' input on how they are showing up in their leadership path. They might ask: "How am I doing?" It takes humility to ask such a question. And even more humility to consider the answer.
7. Humble Leaders Are Accessible
You'll find them in open spaces sharing plans for the future, communicating important things to their people, and fostering a transparent culture. The last thing you'll see a humble leader do is hide behind closed doors or delegate important things to someone else. Your employees will look to you for information on what's going on.
8. Humble Leaders Share Information
Similar to No.7 but taking it a step further, humble leaders know information is power and one of the best ways to build a sense of trust in people. It may mean disclosing information that is considered privileged, but it communicates trust and a sense of "hey, we're all in this together."
9. Humble Leaders Are Intentional About Building Trust
That means that they create an environment where risks are taken, where those around them feel safe and motivated to exercise their creativity, communicate ideas openly, provide input to major decisions without reprimand. Because there's trust there, not fear.
10. Humble Leaders Encourage a Community of Humility
Humble leaders are well respected and have influence, and they will use both to model and encourage (some even enforce) traits of humility to shape or transform company culture. So, for example, every time they share credit for successes with others, or praise others for their accomplishments, they reinforce the ethos.