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Humility and Leadership

Humility and LeadershipNews Flash – the phrase “humble leadership” is not an oxymoron. While many people immediately conjure-up an image of the ever so confident, bombastic extrovert without an ounce of humility as the picture of what constitutes a real leader, nothing could be further from the truth.  As my wife has always said, “Those who talk the most usually have the least to say.” While feigned humility is the height of insincerity, authentic humility is the most sincere form of confidence and strength. Leaders need to understand that being authentically humble humanizes them, allows them to build stronger trust bonds, and engenders confidence & loyalty from peers and subordinates alike. In today’ post I’ll share my thoughts on the value of learning to become a humble leader…

It’s been said that life is a long lesson in humility. As a leader, the sooner you come to grips with your humility the better leader you’ll become. Over the years I have come to believe that “having class” is synonymous with demonstrating a penchant for humility over bravado. True leaders possess a quiet confidence that attracts attention like a magnet. It is the genuine nature of their subtle & quiet charisma/presence, and not the decibel level of their rhetoric that draws you in. True self-confidence is reflected in a person’s deeds and actions, and not in their ability to boast. One of the worst things a leader can do is to let their ego write checks their talent can’t cash…

Humility is actually the trait that magnifies all other positive attributes. Without humility all of a leader’s other strengths become diminished if not invisible. It’s been said that greatness lies not in trying to be somebody, but in trying to help somebody. Humility also happens to be the surest sign of authenticity in someone who claims to be a servant leader. Is it possible to be a leader without being humble? Sure it is…but it is much, much more difficult, rarely sustainable, and leaders who lack humility are always called into question with regard to motives and agendas.

When you think of a true leader do you envision someone who displays a quiet confidence or a blatant arrogance?  While a reserved attitude of humility can often be misinterpreted as a sign of weakness, if you’ve ever negotiated with a truly confident person who is authentically humble, you’ll find that their resolve is often much greater than the feigned confidence of the arrogant. While hubris can be a needed trait to call upon at times, to rely solely upon it as the foundation of your leadership style just doesn’t work. It was C.S. Lewis who said: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking about yourself less.” Simply put, humble leaders recognize and value the contributions of others in lieu of self-promotion.

The truth of the matter is that few things have inspired and motivated me over the years like the quiet confidence and humility of great leaders. I would much rather listen to the self-deprecating humor of a confident person making fun of themselves than the mean spirited attacks of an arrogant person waged at someone else’s expense. More importantly, I would much rather work for, or along side of, the understated than the overstated. Those professionals who have self respect, and demonstrate a true respect for others regardless of their station in life, are much more likely to be successful over the long-term than those who use the tactics of disrespect to humiliate and intimidate.

Contrary to popular folklore, it’s important to note that nice guys & gals don’t finish last. Leaders who display authentic humility have broader spheres of influence, attract better talent, engender more confidence, and earn more loyalty and respect than do those leaders who rely solely upon their chutzpa and their ability to brandish their bravado. If what you’re seeking is lasting relationships, long-term success, and a better quality of life (in and out of the workplace) then you’ll be well served to forgo the pompous acts of the arrogant, and substitute the humility and quiet confidence displayed by true leaders.

If you have any interesting stories about leaders who either possessed great humility, or were sorely lacking in that regard, I’d encourage you to share your experience by leaving a comment below. Thanks in advance for sharing…

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    […] Online Degree 100 Blogs Posts That Will Make You a Better Leader 5 Tweets Humility and Leadership | N2Growth Blog By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth News Flash – the phrase humble leadership is […]


    September 21, 2010 at 12:04 am

    What a GREAT article! I enjoyed it greatly 🙂


    September 21, 2010 at 12:08 am

    I truly agree with your statements about being humble and gaining the real respect of the people who we work with. At the same time I personally feel its a long way to go to see the environment what has been discussed in the article. Often it has been seen in many places I have worked that so called leaders (not all though) don't show humility in their work, and doesn't respect the members in the team.


      September 21, 2010 at 8:45 am

      Hi Anand: Thanks for your comment. Clearly not all leaders possess an innate sense of humility, but if there is a silver lining, the good news is that most leaders develop at least some level of awareness as to the importance of humility over time. For those that don't, they only hurt themselves and taint their ability to earn the full trust and respect of their coworkers. Thanks again for stopping by Anand…


    September 21, 2010 at 12:10 am

    Wonderful article that carries a lot of depth and truth!
    I wanted to put this question out there: Can humility be learned? Especially from a leadership coaching standpoint.


      September 21, 2010 at 8:42 am

      Hi Israa:

      Your question is a good one, and the short answer is yes – humility can be learned. The benefits of humility are most often learned through painful life experiences. However, humility can also effectively (and less painfully) be learned through coaching and mentoring.

      Once leaders understand how beneficial a heightened sense of humility can be not only to them personally, but to the organization as a whole, they become very interested in embracing the refinement of this piece of their character.


    September 21, 2010 at 12:12 am

    A very good article, thanks. I have always been intrigued by the concept of the "servant leader" a term coined I think by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970. He said that servant leader will consider the priorities of his "followers" or team, first. Are their needs being met? Once this is done, many other pieces of the team will fall into place.

    What are your thoughts on the leader as servant first? Thanks.


      September 21, 2010 at 8:39 am

      Thanks for your comment. The term servant leader has been modeled by many great leaders long before it was coined as a business term. The term is most often associated with Biblical principles of leadership and is also practiced extensively in the military. My thoughts on the benefits of servant leadership can be viewed here :http://hub.n2growth.com/service-above-self You might also enjoy reading Jim Strock's (@jamesstrock) on servant leadership.

      I hope these thoughts help Mitch…

    Anne Perschel

    September 21, 2010 at 12:15 am

    Amen to humility Mike. Love that you also named the humor aspect. Laughing at myself provides me with an unending stream of out loud chuckles, even when I'm alone – or mostly when I'm alone. The other day I was spinning in circles trying to find my ringing cell phone… which I had planted in my back pocket. I laughed so hard I couldn't answer the call.

    On a more serious note, I find Abraham Lincoln to be the poster child for that rare balance of humility and confidence. He had a CEO of his own ego that kept him focused on the larger goals and visions – those that exceeded self-interest. As such he was able to employ humility and confidence when and as needed. Of course his well-honed empathic sense also enabled him to read the situation and determine was was called for. Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography Team of Rivals is a treatise on great leadership.


      September 21, 2010 at 8:40 am

      Hi Anne:

      Thanks for the comment and the astute insights. I'm in complete agreement with you on Abraham Lincoln as a great example of balanced leadership. Lincoln suffered so many setbacks and defeats over the course of his life that humility, empathy and forgiveness became instinctual to him. I appreciate your thoughts as well as the recommendation for "Team of Rivals." Thanks Anne.


    September 21, 2010 at 6:28 am

    Excellent article – and oh so true!

    Angela Bisignano

    September 21, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Well written post Mike! I agree with your thoughts. There is something profoundly powerful about humility and its impact on a leader's followers. I am reminded of the quote by one such leader, John Wooden: “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”


      September 21, 2010 at 10:18 am

      Hi Angela:

      Thanks for sharing the John Wooden quote. As was typical of his words they are both eloquent and pointed – a rare combination. I always appreciate your astute observations Angela. Thanks for stopping by.

    Dan Rockwell

    September 21, 2010 at 3:25 pm


    While reading your post, I noticed your repetition of quiet confidence as nearly synonymous with humility. I like your approach. Of course not everyone who appears quietly confident has humility. I know a leader whose demeanor is both quiet and confident but under the hood he hates anyone to outshine him. He has the facade of humility and most people see right through him.

    I love the idea that humility is not weakness, far from it. In addition, I believe humility enables leaders to give up personal agendas and fully align themselves with organizational values, mission and vision. In so doing they enhance there authority.

    Your insights and perspective help me.




      September 21, 2010 at 3:38 pm

      Hi Dan:

      I agree with you that humility is the great enabler. All good things stem from it, and negative traits thrive as a result of its absence. Thanks for sharing Dan.

    Corrie Block

    September 21, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    The key to character-driven leadership is empathy. You have to care about other people in order to trust your character to guide you as a leader.


      September 21, 2010 at 5:07 pm

      Agreed – caring and empathy are central to sound leadership. That said, both of these traits are only made stronger when delivered with humility. Thanks for sharing Corrie.


    September 27, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    So much truth to this. Humility is the fundamental attribute from which all else flows. The heart of a great leader will always be humble. Nice piece.


      September 27, 2010 at 5:03 pm

      Thanks for the kind words. We are obviously in agreement on the value of humble leadership. Thanks again for stopping by…


      November 5, 2010 at 6:50 pm

      Thanks for the kind words Sir. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment.


    November 5, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Thank you very much for your post.
    i would really like to be more humble. what is the best way to do that?

    thank you very much.


      November 5, 2010 at 6:49 pm

      Hi Stan:

      Just having the goal of becoming more humble is a great start. The best way to avoid arrogance is simply to place the focus on others. If you not only step off the stage, but allow others to take center stage you'll find that things start to align themselves in the right order. I think C.S. Lewis said it best: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less." Thanks for stopping by Stan…


    April 27, 2011 at 4:36 am

    There’s a statement I’ve never forgotten that was made about an excellent corporate leader. This was his philosophy: You don’t hire lions and expect them to behave like lambs.

    Subhashis Das Gupta

    December 20, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    I once read in Jewish literature ,that One of the secrets of being charismatic is to have humility combined with rationing words in your communication…really appreciate your thoughts Mike

    Charles Stanley

    December 20, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Humility is learning to be a “There YOU are” kind of person, rather than a “here I am” kind off person.  When you recognize others, and boast of their value and accomplishments, you will be seen as a leader without having to tell anybody you are.


    December 21, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    I had a boss that at first didn’t inspire at lot of confidence in me as a leader.  As a young brash up in commer, I looked at outwardly self confident managers as the best (maybe even arrogant)  Having worked for him for 2 years, I can now say I have more resepect for him as a leader than any other I have worked for.  I have now become a leader and am glad to have worked for such a person as it has greatly improved the skill set that I now bring to my role.  More leaders should read this article and take a lesson in humility. 


    December 23, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Fantastic article. Everyone should read, as we all act as leaders at some point in our lives….and many of us have multiple types of leadership roles in and outside of the work place.


    December 24, 2011 at 1:46 am

    An up and comer:

    Tim Tebow

    Remain Teachable | Geoff Livingston's Blog

    February 15, 2013 at 6:02 am

    […] Humility is a hard topic, particularly for me because I don’t have much of it. They say anyone who talks about humility doesn’t possess it. […]

    Heidi Orstad, RN, BSN, CCM

    February 15, 2013 at 6:08 am

    I wholeheartedly agree! I lead nurses and am a nurse by background and can absolutely say that servant leadership wins every time as does humility. A great new book, Team Geek, speaks to three essentials to healthy relationships in teams- humility, respect and trust. True in healthcare, true in IT. Thanks much!


    September 25, 2013 at 8:12 am

    ” A great man is always willing to be little” – Ralph Waldo Emerson-

    I am always in awe of successful leaders who despite their status manages to keep their feet glued to the ground. Indeed humility is a rare characteristic found only in great leaders. Humility is recognizing your weaknesses and taking steps towards making corrective actions for your shortcomings. As a leader, it is easy to fall with the reasoning that ” I am the leader so I am always right” attitude. Humility is being able to acknowledge that you don’t know everything and that being more open to other people’s opinion is always a good option to learn more.

    Claire Farnell

    Susie B Wilson

    December 18, 2013 at 4:31 am

    Perfectly written and expressed. Leadership is a concept of multi-dimensional facets
    inclusive of skill, ability, inherent qualities, behaviours, and relationships. All or some of these dimensions may be observed in an individual that possesses leadership potential in different combinations and can be recognised when intent to make a change in an organisation is for the greater good.

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