In an era where larger than life, self-absorbed business leaders are treated like legends, with the indispensible cult following, elevating humility as an essential trait for great leadership may seem peculiar, even a bit obsolete. Yet, humility and the ability to admit error may be two of the most imperative qualities today’s visionary leaders must have.
Qualities long associated with illustrious leadership encompass passion, charisma, enthusiasm, charm, strength and foresight. One crucial element often overlooked is ‘Humility’. We are often taught that exemplary leaders should hide their weaknesses and flaws. This view itself is flawed. Admitting to being wrong is not only commendable, but can also serve as a powerful tool for leaders to increase their authenticity. When practiced regularly, humility can gradually help create a work culture that raises the bar of honesty, solidarity, innovation, openness to change and many other positive features of organizational life.
Many people erroneously believe that humility is the opposite of pride, when, in fact, it is a point of equilibrium. The opposite of pride is actually a lack of self esteem. A modest person is totally different from a person who cannot recognize and appreciate himself as he is. A self-effacing leader is self-aware and not weighed down with insecurities, constantly worrying about how he or she is perceived by their peers. Their egos reflect the reality of their persona and circumstance. They display a healthy sense of self that doesn’t overreact irrationally to external stimuli or perceived threats. From this phenomenal emotional vantage point, they are able to successfully lead their organizations. Quietly confident, they inspire their subordinates and peers to draw on their talents and to seek accomplishment, all in service to the organization and its greater goal.
Humility is the only true wisdom by which we can prepare our minds for all the possible unpredictable changes that life has to life. Self-reflection entails delving deep and asking yourself questions about your values, assessing your strengths and failures, thinking about your perceptions and interactions with others, and imagining where you want to take your life going forward.
As an old Argentinian saying goes. “Tell me what you are conceited about, and I'll tell you what you lack.” The key difference between arrogance and confidence is self-awareness. So how do you avoid the pitfalls that come with the danger of being an arrogant, pompous jerk? Just stay ‘Humble’.
Ditch the exaggerated swagger. Regardless of what you’ve heard, stakeholders just want to communicate with people who are respectful and humble. Swagger, while mildly impressive to some, is a turnoff for most.
Humility offers tremendous foresight. Knowledge that you’re going to get kicked, least of all when you expect it. Arrogance is ignorance, thinking that no one is going to ever dare take aim. It’s tougher for people to kick a nice guy when he’s down. On the contrary, the arrogant chap has always had a ‘bullseye’ painted on his rear end....people were just waiting for the right moment for him to tumble.
Humble leaders also encourage an honest flow of dialogue. Information flows both ways, but a pompous leader can't listen when his mouth is boastfully moving. The best leaders are the best listeners! They strategically know when to turn down the din and make their move.
Great leaders operate from a strong, humble, centre of gravity and are naturally perceived as more honest, trustworthy and competent. Because humility prevents excessive self-focus it also allows leaders to develop deeper perspectives and enables them to correctly foresee the future. They are not fooled by the charade on the surface, and are able to observe and correctly detect behind the flimsy veil of individuals and entire systems. One can correctly summarize that ‘Humility’ is a rare gift that leaders can only acquire once they have taken the long journey into the very heart of who they are...and made peace with their core being.
There’s an old saying that seems to capture it: A pseudo leader always leaves you with a feeling of their greatness, while a humble leader always leaves you with a feeling of your greatness.
“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce through the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.” St. Augustine’s wise words written over two centuries ago leave us with much to ponder upon.