Last week I posted an article entitled The Humble Leader: Giving and Receiving Feedback, and this week I would like to expand on this critical leadership quality. It is a quality often overlooked by many. Yet, when you understand its impact on organizational culture and its people, you will understand why the need for leaders to grow in this quality is imperative.
Countless CEOs, directors, and heads of major corporations ask me what the most important leadership quality is – which quality would most benefit their organization?
While many seek out the essential quality in leadership, very few are able to discover it.
So many things inform great leadership, but having spent the better part of my life as a leadership keynote speaker, studying leadership and how it works, I have come to the conclusion that there is one quality that separates adequate leadership from stellar leadership. One quality that distinguishes the mentor for whom you will go all out for, as opposed to the one for whom you merely show up. The essential leadership quality of which I speak is HUMILITY.
I have played on highly competitive NFL teams, and have worked at the top levels of the corporate world for the better part of 30 years. I want to share my take on why this attractive, self-effacing quality of humility ranks above other essential leadership qualities, such as being a visionary, courageous, and charismatic personality.
Humility is not weak, retiring, lowly, or self-effacing, as many people think. It is not “always being nice” or deferring to others. It does not lack in confidence, energy, or personality. Instead, it is being an eager and curious life-long learner who is open and interested in new ideas, welcoming other insights and feedback. Humility is a collaborative and inclusive quality enthusiastic about recognizing and sharing breakthroughs and ultimate success with others. Transparency is an aspect of humility that allows for honest discussion and willingness to admit mistakes and to learn from them. Primarily, humility is thinking more about others than you do about yourself.
The success, growth, and development of a team can only flourish in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Those who lead by the rule of “my way or the highway” demand the compliance of their employees. On the other hand, leaders who listen and seek input from their team members, foster a culture in which all ideas are valued; respect is earned, not demanded.
Research has proven leaders who score high in this unassuming and often overlooked trait listen more effectively, motivate exceptional teamwork, and align everybody on organizational strategy and goals.
Confidence is crucial but often mistaken for the most critical leadership quality. Yes, your confidence as a leader is necessary to ensure the trust of your team. Consider your team as the crew of a ship, with you as the captain steering the course. Confidence inspires trust and assures your crew of your ability to guide the ship safely. However, without humility, that trust is undermined by fear and insecurity. As much as your crew needs you to guide them, it would be best if you had their support to move forward. Have confidence in your vision as a leader, but make sure to have the humility that allows for the necessary care and empathy which supports your team.
Consistency is often touted as another essential leadership quality. At the most basic level, team members need to know with whom they are dealing on a daily basis. There is no doubt consistency is valuable, but the type of consistency can be overlooked. If a leader is continuously unavailable and uninterested in team feedback, input, or concerns, all the consistency in the world will not get them very far.
Consistencies in judgment and decision-making build an essential foundation from which your organization can grow. Still, without humility and respect, it won’t grow, regardless of how stable your organization may be.
1. Welcome a second or third opinion:
Involve your team by actively seeking out feedback. Bringing more voices and ideas to a project or problem shows your team that you don’t presume yourself to be all-knowing or infallible.
2. Never assign to others tasks you’re not comfortable doing yourself:
You would not want to find your team members pushing tasks down the chain of the command because they are too proud to ask for help or admit what they don’t know. Set a productive precedent to grow, learn, and tackle new challenges.
3. Be compassionate when dealing with employees:
Until they have shared it with you, there is no way to know what employees are going through outside of the workplace. Everyone has bad days—even the most significant leaders. Show your humility by treating employees with compassion and empathy.
4. Keep in mind that the road to success is paved with failures:
Failures are not just inevitable – they are also forgivable, and often excellent opportunities for learning and improving. Understanding failure as a part of success is hand in glove with humble leadership. Take failure in stride; know that everyone – from janitors to CEOs – inevitably fall short at some point.
As a leadership keynote speaker, I am continually steering organizations toward better leadership practices. Humility is a core principle of the direction toward impactful leadership.