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The Importance of Humility in Human Leadership

Author: Saranya Krishnan
Last Updated: Jul 10, 2023 02:19
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What qualities come to mind when you think of effective leadership? Most likely, when you think of a strong, confident leader, you picture someone who possesses many good traits. Such as wit, charm, creativity, and a readiness to put in the hard effort required to accomplish goals.

But there is one more leadership quality that many effective leaders have, and that is humility.

The most frequent quality attributed to well-known business leaders is not humility. Although humility and effective leadership aren't always related, it doesn't imply their connections aren't substantial. A plethora of characteristics that humble individuals possess actually help them become stronger, more effective leaders, such as their openness to acknowledge (and even embrace!) their limitations and to seek assistance when they require it.

Both the business environment and the workplace are evolving. Different things are expected of leaders by their subordinates. Additionally, what it takes to provide value to clients profitably is continuously evolving. A leader today must be adept at incorporating and eliciting contributions from a variety of sources. They must be continually curious and educated. Learning necessitates modesty.

When one adopts humility in leadership, one could end up improving as a person while also becoming a better leader. A lean towards humility as a leader, then, if you want to be better for your followers. But practising humility won't just help you become a better leader. Other advantages of humility include enhanced listening abilities and compassion.

According to the American Psychological Association, humility is characterised by a modest focus on oneself, an accurate sense of one's accomplishments and worth (rather than an over or underestimated sense), and an acceptance of one's limitations, faults, blunders, and knowledge gaps.

Basically, humility is the capacity to accept oneself for who one is. You are conscious of your successes and assets. However, you are also aware of your shortcomings and restrictions. This can be quite beneficial for you as a leader.

Observe one thing that's crucial. Sometimes, humility is mistaken for insecurity or weakness, but that's just not the case. Leaders that are humble can and often do have complete confidence in their competence. They are aware of their strengths and the contributions they can make. Simply said, they are aware of their shortcomings and blind spots and aren't afraid to admit it.

When it comes to leadership, there is no one-size-fits-all method. But there are several traits that modest leaders frequently share, such as:

  • A desire to learn

  • The capacity to admit their ignorance

  • Good listening abilities

  • An emphasis on cooperation

  • More sincerity

  • A caring manner of leading

  • A readiness to accept responsibility for mistakes

Why is leadership humility important?

When you're in a leadership position, humility is a crucial trait to have. But why precisely is it so crucial?

You become more approachable and relatable to your team as a result. A haughty boss is unapproachable by everyone. You come across your team as more approachable and available when you practise humility in leadership. It aids in innovation and is an element of fostering a culture of belonging and inclusion. Leaders that are humble are more receptive to the opinions and insights of others. You can come up with better answers and foster innovation when you can respect and build upon the ideas of others.

It aids your influence-building. Employees are drawn to humble CEOs more than arrogant ones, according to a study described in the Harvard Business Review. They discover that leaders who underestimate themselves are more successful than those who overestimate themselves.

In other words, a humble leader is more likely to earn the respect of his or her team than a haughty or overconfident one. And that respect will enable you to exert influence over your group. It produces better results. Journal of Management studies indicates that humility promotes superior results. More efficient teams, greater collaboration, and greater flexibility are fostered by humble leadership.

How do people become humble leaders?

Some folks are humble from birth. And if that describes you, it's likely that leadership humility comes effortlessly to you. But if you don't have a naturally humble disposition, you'll need to consciously incorporate humility into your leadership style.

Dos and Don'ts in Leadership Humility

Here are some important things that leaders can do—or not do—to demonstrate humility in their positions of authority:

  • Humble leaders listen and remain open to other people's ideas, opinions, and insights.

  • Humble leaders are open to suggestions from others.

  • Humble leaders treat their teams with kindness, compassion, and respect. Leaders who are humble don't pretend to have all the answers.

  • Humble leaders admit when they make mistakes.

  • Humble leaders don't shame their employees when they make mistakes.

  • Humble leaders don't act as though they know all the answers, but they DO acknowledge that there is always more to learn and take steps to continue their own learning path.

  • Humble leaders don't try to claim the glory for themselves; they DO hold themselves accountable when something goes wrong; and they don't attempt to place blame elsewhere, especially on their team members. Instead, they look for ways to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of their team.

  • Humble leaders prioritise the needs of their team before their own.

  • Humble leaders do not put themselves before their team.

What makes humility such a crucial attribute, then?

Humble leaders are aware that they are not always the most intelligent person present. Neither are they necessary. They support the finest ideas, whether they come from a senior executive or a worker on the assembly line, and they encourage people to speak up, respect differences of opinion, and champion them.

When a leader makes an effort to use everyone's input, the organisation benefits. As line managers and other executives adopt the leader's strategy, a culture of maximising the potential of each team and member develops.

How do you evaluate a candidate's humility when it comes time to make a hiring decision?

Do they give others credit? It's a warning sign if a candidate doesn't recognise how others helped them attain their success.

Do they own up to their errors? A modest person not only acknowledges their faults but also tries to figure out what went wrong and what they should do differently in the future. Candidates who place the blame elsewhere and absolve themselves of accountability should be extremely cautious.

Accept the criticism that is constructive. Does the applicant acknowledge taking criticism in the past? What was their reaction? The candidate should ideally accept the truth of the criticism and show that they have given it some attention.

Do they work to strengthen their areas of weakness? We all lack certain skills. Has the candidate acknowledged their shortcomings and worked to fix them?

Do they help others? Did the applicant show concern for their direct reports in previous positions, provide them with the necessary resources and training, and aid in their career advancement?

The main reason is that charismatic candidates with strong personalities and a commanding presence tend to make an impression on us.  Look further, is my advice. Your instincts are frequently erroneous.

Be prepared to put in the work.

Your staff has to be aware of your willingness to collaborate with them. They can't get the impression that you won't cooperate with them. A true leader is always there for his or her team. Be prepared to take the phone calls for the day if your secretary is absent due to illness. Whenever you lead with humility, there is no job that is beyond your pay grade. There is nothing your team won't do for you if they know you are eager to work with them. They will be intensely devoted, and their output will reflect their gratitude.

Be a leader, not a manager while thinking.

Someone smart once observed, "I get the impression that a boss is significant when I speak to them. Conversations with leaders make me feel significant and important to them. This statement sums up what it means to lead with humility perfectly. Each member of your team needs to feel empowered, valued, significant, and respected after meeting with you one-on-one. Someone on your squad who shares these sentiments will unquestionably be a strong player. A leader sees the people on their team as individuals. A manager sees the people on his or her team as a means to an end. Recognise the distinctions and guide your team appropriately.

Take your ego out of the picture.

This might be a tricky rule to uphold when dealing with a difficult decision or demanding personality. One of the most important ways to remain humble as a leader is to maintain objectivity. Teams will have a lot of respect for you if they know they can rely on you to leave your ego at the door and make judgements that will be in the best interests of the whole team. On the other side, they will find it difficult to trust you if they believe that you prioritise your needs over those of others. No one wants to work for an unreliable employer. Getting a reliable colleague's advice can help you make decisions without being influenced by your ego. You will be better able to understand the situation after hearing from an impartial person.

Be the change.

Everyone has heard the well-known proverb "Be the change you wish to see in the world." This includes setting a good example for your team's culture. We must always keep in mind that as leaders, our group looks to us to set the bar high. When people observe your own individual work habits, make sure they recognise high quality. Your team will notice a difference as soon as you choose to lead with humility. Consequently, you will see a difference in the team’s behaviour almost immediately. Humility in leadership will have an effect on both your company and you personally. You'll have a more positive outlook on your team, your work, and yourself. It goes without saying that it will improve your bottom line.


Maintaining humility should be a top goal in an organization’s leadership approach. This has had a significant impact on the company branding as well. The most successful people in the world don't have haughty attitudes or a sense of entitlement, but devote time to learning why one of the most crucial qualities of a successful leader is humility. You might not instantly think of "humility" when considering the traits of a successful leader. But it turns out that humility is a particularly important leadership trait.

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