6 Ways to Express Leadership Humility

In my previous posts here and here, I’ve been praising the character trait of humility, particularly when it comes to leadership. It’s a trait praised by author Jim Collins in his classic book Good to Great. According to research on companies that sustain success over time, humility is a defining character of Level 5 leaders.

Here are some suggestions on how to develop leadership humility from authors John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin in “Six Principles for Developing Humility as a Leader,” published in Harvard Business Review, September 2013:

1. Know what you don’t know.
Resist “master of the universe” impulses. You may excel in one area, but as a leader you are, by definition, a generalist. Learn to rely on those who have relevant qualifications and expertise. Know when to defer and delegate.

2. Resist falling for your own publicity.
We all do it: whether we’re writing a press release or a self-appraisal, we put the best spin on our success — and then conveniently forget that the reality was never as flawless as we said it was.

3. Never underestimate the competition.
You may be brilliant, ambitious, and audacious. But the world is filled with other hard-working, high-IQ, creative professionals. What sets you apart?

4. Embrace and promote a spirit of service.
Employees quickly figure out which leaders are dedicated to helping them succeed and which are scrambling for personal success at their expense.

5. Listen, even (no, especially) to the weird ideas.
Never stubbornly believe that your idea is always better than someone else’s. If someone comes up with something that sounds crazy, open your mind. There is ample evidence that you should: the most imaginative and valuable ideas tend to come from left field.

6. Be passionately curious.
Constantly welcome and seek out new knowledge, and insist on curiosity from those around you. Take it from Einstein. “I have no special talent,” he claimed. “I am only passionately curious.”

Whether you plan to climb the leadership ladder or not, your career success depends to a degree on your personal growth and development. Resolve to work on your own humility and you will begin to notice and appreciate its effect all around you. A willingness to speak of your failures and career challenges will convince others that your self-confidence and wisdom are tempered with humility.

What do you think about humility for leaders? I’d love to hear your experience; contact me and let’s talk. You can reach me here and on LinkedIn.