Humility – The Leadership Superpower

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your formal self” ~ Ernest Hemingway

In today’s businesses, a leader is expected to be a lot of things – all seamless and concurrent.  Judge, psychiatrist, philosopher, accountant, project manager, sometimes even parent are all aspects of the leader’s daily routine.  The best leaders, the ones who build enduring legacies, possess a trait that is akin to a superpower – humility.

Now, before I continue, allow me to address the opposing view.  Steve Jobs’ lack of humility is well chronicled.  Other titans of business, Zuckerberg at Facebook, as an example, also have at least a public persona of lacking humility.  Their stock prices have soared and they have clearly built enduring organizations.  However, I would argue that they had the emotional intelligence to recognize this blind spot in themselves and hire humility to supplement their charismatic (a.k.a eccentric) business approach – Cook at Apple and Sandberg at Facebook.  Humility is a requirement for growth and if you don’t (or can’t) have it, then you must hire for it.

Why is humility so important for leaders?  Simply put, people like to do business with people they like.  This applies to client relationships and internal employee relationships. It applies to all relationships.  All productive human relationships are built upon trust but it is humility that allows trust to climb the learning curve like a driver hitting insane mode in a tesla.

So what are the ways in which a leader can demonstrate humility internally within the organization?  Saying I am humble is an oxymoron in and of itself as only those who lack humility would claim that they have humility.  Though seemingly abstract in its nature, there are specific things a leader can do every day to demonstrate humility. 

  • Speak less and listen more.
  • Ask advice of those around you.
  • Show extreme loyalty even when it appears unwarranted.
  • Forgive those who never apologized.
  • Be a teacher. 
  • Ignore the mistakes of others and help resolve the consequences of those mistakes.
  • Always talk about others like they are part of your family.
  • Don’t be afraid to show your true emotional self.
  • Fetch coffee for others.
  • Volunteer to do the job no one else wants to do.
  • Sing the praises of others to all those who listen.
  • Ask forgiveness when you mess up.
  • Thank people endlessly.  They deserve it.
  • Appreciate what you have and who you are. 
  • Delete the response email that was written out of anger before sending it. 
  • Call people back immediately.
  • Stay late with the rest of your team even if you don’t know how to help.

One last comment on humility.  Someday, you will no longer be doing what you are doing today.  You will retire or you will get another job. And you will be remembered.  Keep that fact in the forefront of your mind and you stand a much better chance of remembering to employ the superpower that is humility.

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