Home > General > The Role of Humility in Leadership

The Role of Humility in Leadership

You’re at a meeting where the boss is excitedly telling everyone about his latest great idea. You listen in disbelief as he outlines the innovative idea that you took to him last week and realize he’s unashamedly absconded with your creativity and claimed it as his own to look good in front of others. Feelings run from shock to hurt to seething anger as you tune out everything else he has to say, wondering how many other people in the room this “legend in his own mind” has done this to! You resolve never to share your ideas again with this company.

Now, change seats. Let’s suppose that the one talking about his great idea in this scenario is you, and you are the one who has failed to give credit where credit was due. Perhaps insecurity, fear of being upstaged, or to be truthful, the lack of humility caused you to grab the glory rightly deserved by someone else. Let’s further suppose that you know it is your “Achilles Heel” – the flaw that holds you back from being someone others think of as a true leader…

Humility, which is the acknowledgment of the truth about who we are in relationship to others, is absolutely essential to effective leadership. G.K. Chesterton once said, “It is always the secure who are humble.” A leader secure enough to admit that he or she doesn’t have, or need to have, all the answers is rewarded with the contributions of talented followers committed to the success of the whole organization. Jim Collin’s research, which became the basis for his watershed book “Good to Great”, is full of examples of organizations that have consistently outperformed their peers over time when led by an individual with the paradoxical qualities of deep personal humility and unwavering perseverance towards stated goals.

A leader whose only focus is on him or herself, and how much they know or are capable of doing alone, typically also lacks empathy – the ability to stand in another’s shoes and understand what it must feel like to be them in a situation – which is why it’s possible to steal someone else’s thunder without thinking…or blinking.

Unfortunately, history has not been kind to arrogant leaders who only learn what it means to be humble when they, and by association, their organizations, are brought low by public humiliation.

To paraphrase Chesterton…it’s always the secure who are humble enough to admit they might need help.

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