Leadership requires many different skills; from foresight to reactive thinking, from the ability to deal with a situation from a position of strength to performing under pressure. Being a good leader means you’re comfortable standing out in front, like the lead singer in a musical. You take pressure in your stride and your confidence helps to position you as an authority to those you work with and those you report to.
There’s a unique trait, however, that sets apart the great leaders from the good. It’s harder to learn because for many leaders it feels un-natural. Something that makes them more uncomfortable and more likely to hastily exit stage left.
This isn’t something that’s just relevant to leadership but more broadly in all parts of life. It makes you authentic, believable, loved, revered and everything else in between. It’s so powerful, in fact, that a study cited by Forbes has shown that these type of leaders are the best for business.
The best leaders are humble leaders
The trait I’m talking about is humility. Why does it make some leaders uncomfortable? Because for many in a leadership position there is an aversion to anything that might make them appear weak. I’m sure you’ve experienced leaders like this at some point – the ones who find it hard to admit to their team that they don’t have the answer, that would choose personal glory rather than praising an individual other than themselves.
However, as Deloitte so beautifully puts it, “Today, organizations live in the Glassdoor era. Every corporate decision is immediately publicly exposed and debated. Once-private issues are now posted online for every employee—and every potential employee—to read.” So how long, then, can leaders afford not to be humble?
How humility gets you from good to great
I’ve worked with a number of great leaders over the years, each who have taught me some amazing things and helped shape where I am today. When I started to think about the greatest leaders I’ve ever been lucky enough to work for, the ones that stood out immediately were those that were humble. As I write this and think back about those experiences, I have seen the power that humility can have on teams:
Humble leaders inspire and empower
It’s the fact they are willing to give you a go, that they take pride in having their managers single you out for the great work you’ve done. They’re the first to admit when they know there’s something they can’t do but that you can. They don’t go around playing the politician, jostling for position among their peers so they can be seen and recognised. They share openly and they embody a true sense of the word ‘team’. They admit when things are difficult, but inspire in how they respond to overcoming those challenges. They show you that as hard as something might be, it can be done, and because they share that with you, you’re not just inspired but empowered to help drive action yourself.
Humble leaders will listen to you, even if it’s something they may not want to hear
Feedback isn’t always nice. Especially when it’s in the form of criticism. If someone in the team raises a fault in the way something has been done, the person responsible isn’t automatically going to welcome it with open arms. When that person is a leader, it means that the spotlight very quickly shines bright in their eyes. Many will choose to hide as a result. The greatest leaders, however, recognise that feedback like this is so hugely necessary. They’re humble enough to take it on the chin and openly acknowledge it – often in front of the team – and then seek input and consensus on how it can be fixed. These leaders don’t just wait for something to happen. They’re open to feedback, actively seeking input from their team on how things could be improved because they don’t necessarily have all the answers. Then they act, publicly, to show that the feedback is translating into action.
Humble leaders command the utmost respect without acting tough
A quote we shared earlier this week was from Simon Sinek – “Great leaders don’t need to act tough. Their confidence and humility serve to underscore their toughness.” How true this is. The greatest leaders I have worked with have always held my respect; we could have a friendly chat, share a joke with each other, talk openly about business challenges, and even confide in each other if we were having a tough time with something outside work. But when an important deadline was looming and the pressure was on, the team immediately knew what had to be done. We didn’t wait for instruction, we knew what was expected of us and got on with the job at hand. We were driven by the respect we had for our manager and the confidence they had in us that we would deliver. That manager never approached us with a firm voice, telling us how important something was to complete. Because of their leadership, we already knew.
Humility forms the core foundation of great leadership. Without it, you may be a good leader but chances are you’ll stay just that.
Image credit: Morgan Sessions, Unsplash