When thinking about leadership, the top characteristics that come to mind are probably boldness, intelligence, proactivity, fearlessness, inspiration, dedication, strategic thinking, and bravery. Most people mistakenly don’t associate humility with leadership, yet humility is a virtue at the core of great leadership. Many think that being humble means being timid or weak, a pushover, or someone who is too soft. In reality, it’s anything but.

A true leader always has humility. It is through humility that a leader sees and treats everyone as equal. Without humility, a leader can turn into a despot. Humility offers a balance to the power inherent in leadership. It humanizes the leader and brings him closer to the people he leads. In the workplace, a humble leader becomes strong by earning his team’s respect and therefore their loyalty.

Humility is a valuable attribute to have in order to become a more effective leader. Here are the five golden rules for leading with humility.

  1. Give credit, share blame. University of Alabama’s legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once said, “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, you did it.” Nothing sums up the first rule of a humble leader better. To lead with humility means to share both the good and the bad with your team. When the team successfully reaches a goal, a humble leader will let his team take the credit and does so genuinely.

    A poor leader distances himself from his team and the situation when things go sour, and takes all of the credit when things go well. A true leader shares in the blame when things don’t work out, and praises his team when the job is done right.

  2. Admit your mistakes. We’ve all been there: we make a mistake and are so shocked and embarrassed when it happens that we deny or deflect blame. But a humble leader doesn’t do that. He admits his mistake and tries to move forward, either by coming up with solutions himself or asking people for suggestions. Admitting your mistakes shows strength of character and encourages team members to do the same.

    A poor leader denies having made a mistake and tries to cover it up. A true leader admits when he’s wrong and reflects on the impact of his actions.

  3. Ask for feedback. Being truly humble means being able to receive constructive criticism. Leaders who believe in receiving feedback show they are interested in continuing to grow and learn. By asking for and accepting feedback, they are able to create a culture of communication and openness among their team. They show the value of listening to different points of view and accepting valid points when they’re made.

    A poor leader shies away from feedback and gets defensive when any criticism is given. A true leader encourages feedback and takes the opportunity to learn and improve his leadership abilities.

  4. Lead by actions, not words. Some leaders like to get on their soapboxes and talk about all the things their teams should be doing better. They think that leading means telling people what to do, without thinking about what they should be doing themselves. A humble leader realizes that, to lead effectively, he must do so through his actions and not just his words. He sets an example for his team to follow, whether it’s by asking for feedback or admitting to his mistakes.

    A poor leader preaches values, yet doesn’t live by them. A true leader leads by example, following the values he believes in and encouraging his team to do the same.

  5. Be respectful. Often, with leadership comes hubris. With the overwhelming pride and sense of power, leaders forget that to get respect they must first give respect. A humble leader treats everyone with the same respect and decency—whether in his team or not; whether it’s his senior VP or the entry-level staffer. Leading with humility means understanding that mutual respect is the foundation of effective leadership.

    A poor leader sees and treats people differently, showing respect only to those he deems worthy of it. A true leader treats everyone with respect, thus earning the respect of others.

Do you value humility in leadership? Have you ever had to deal with a leader who was lacking humility?

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Adina Miron

2 Comments

  • Avatar Jack Cleary says:

    Humility is certainly one of the greatest attributes of leaders. Unfortunately, most leaders I have met don`t consider it to be important and their priorities are only about team performance and growth. This is probably a big mistake, because I don`t think their team respects them very much – they do their job, but they are probably very frustrated because of this.

  • Avatar Meg says:

    In my work I came across leaders who were so focused on themselves, they made their team hate them. They didn`t give them any credit or respect, ignored their suggestions and feedback. At some point, everybody was so demotivated that productivity dramatically decreased and we had to shut down the project. It was like watching domino pieces falling – even the leaders felt that something bad was happening, they refused to take a step back and see what their problem truly was.

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