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Leadership Humility


Leadership and humility are not two words we have often seen together, mainly because people associate humility with weakness. The mere definition of humility supports that association. Humility is defined as a modest or low view of one's own importance. When you think of humility, what image comes to mind? Many may see a picture of a person with their head hanging down. However, what I see is an image of a person standing tall. As you read on, you may decide to join me in that view.


While we have defined what humility means, I want to echo C.S. Lewis's approach to humility. He described what humility is not. "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." ―CS Lewis. This approach is very timely and valuable in our environment today. Today's leaders must become better listeners. They are being challenged to accept that their ideologies and preferences may not be the prevailing sentiments of their teams, employees, or customers. Yet, to remain relevant and competitive, they must recognize that the phenomenon of choice is being promoted worldwide. Don't get me wrong, some governments and institutions still don't honor personal choices, but as social media becomes more the norm and more prevalent, those governments and institutions are dying or encountering more confrontations.

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." ―CS Lewis.

So, how does a leader exercise humility as a strength instead of as a weakness? My answer is --- "to listen and explore while seeking to gain a greater understanding and potential acceptance of a different point of view." This acceptance does not mean they are adopting those views personally. Instead, this approach demands that a leader allows himself to relate to and value the perspectives of others. Acquiescence is not assured, but openness and respect will long be appreciated.


Let's break down my view of how a leader embraces the attributes of humility. First, listening is an essential tenet. Usually, we are so self-absorbed in our worlds. We are quiet just long enough to let someone else finish talking to get our thoughts and opinions in. We counterpoint everything we don't envision or agree with. All of this happens because we see solutions only through our own eyes.


Often, I find myself wondering how various discoveries are made. What causes persons to step out of their comfort zones long enough to imagine and create something different? I believe at the root of all discoveries is the will to look for, or notice, differences to the status quo. Think about it. If we are not willing to examine differences or change, we will not progress as humans. So I argue that to discuss and explore new things, one has to open up their paradigms to accept what might or could be, instead of what was and is. This is the act of receptive analysis, and I believe this is a part of leadership humility. By accepting what might or could be, you allow other ideals and imagination to co-exist. Conversely, if you value the ideals and imagination of others, you seek to understand with acceptance.

Imagine how our world would change if we could pause long enough to listen and stop talking?

Recently in an International Journal of Management Reviews, a study by Neilsen and Marrone states that leaders who are humble:

  • Acknowledge their limitations and strengths;

  • Appreciate others' strengths and contributions without letting their ego get in the way;

  • Maintain an open mind and a desire to continuously learn from others;

  • Seek diverse feedback often;

  • Apologize when they are in the wrong; and

  • Avoid being defensive, aggressive, or domineering.

I appreciate these six steps because they can be accomplished when we listen and explore while seeking to understand with a spirit of potential acceptance. Imagine how our world would change if we could pause long enough to listen and stop talking? Imagine how our companies and teams could improve if we listened to each other's perspectives? Imagine how we could deliver a better product or service if we delivered what our customers asked for instead of giving them what we preemptively think they need? So, leaders, allow humility to be one of your strengths. Now go forth, and #LEADPerpetually.


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