WHY DOES HUMILITY MATTER?
As the leader of a talent management firm earlier in my career, my
team and I conducted a survey of three hundred people in the pub-lic
and private sectors to learn more about the impacts of humility
on leaders as well as their teams. The results were compelling.
Employees who reported working for humble leaders were sig-nificantly
happier, more productive and experienced higher levels
of job satisfaction. They also expressed a stronger desire to stay
with their current employer and they were more likely to be
Humble leaders were also rated significantly higher by their
employees in terms of their effectiveness and performance. Thus,
humility truly provides a win-win scenario.
More recent research by leadership development consultancy
Zenger Folkman echoes these conclusions. Summarizing their
research in an article published in Harvard Business Review they
concluded: “Indeed, the more they underrated themselves, the
more highly they were perceived as leaders. We assume this is
caused by a combination of humility, high personal standards, and
a continual striving to be better.”
The ambitious scope of the study, which involved data from
nearly 70,000 managers and 750,000 raters, makes the observa-tions
more striking. What’s more, the same research noted that
leaders who underrated themselves (the hallmark of humility),
also had the most engaged employees.
PRACTICING HUMBLE LEADERSHIP
Given the myriad of benefits, the importance of humility cannot
be overstated. This leads to a very important question: How can
leaders demonstrate humility?
1. Take ownership for mistakes. When people own up to their
mistakes, it not only strengthens the relationship, it also
encourages others to follow suit. When you make a mistake,
freely admit it and take responsibility. Do this with your team,
with your leaders, as well as with your customers.
Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red provided some great
advice in this regard, “People have an amazing capacity to for-give
if you provide them with the opportunity.”
2. Lead with questions. There are numerous ways that leaders
can capitalize on this strategy. For example, ask team members
for their input before starting a project. Rather than sharing
your idea first, which will invariably influence the future
direction, ask your team for their ideas on how to approach
Another way to use questions is by informally asking the
team how you are performing as a leader. Ask the team, fel-low
colleagues, as well as external stakeholders and customers.
This is a powerful and inexpensive technique to gather invalu-able
Leaders can also inspire the expression of humility within
their teams by recognizing and rewarding people who ask
questions (e.g. delivering affirmation/praise). Doing this
highlights these behaviours as “best practices” and encourages
people to follow suit in the future. Set the expectation that peo-ple
should ask questions of each other at least as often as they
advocate for their positions within team meetings. Provocative
research has shown that striking this balance of inquiry versus
advocacy is a key indicator of high performing teams.
3. Shine the spotlight on the team. There are numerous ways to
do this in practice. For example, rotate the chair of meetings
from time to time, letting each team member take turns leading
discussions for the day. This provides everyone an opportunity
to flex their leadership muscles as well as to put their stamp on
a meeting or project.
Additionally, when a member of the team succeeds, make
sure to promote this accomplishment both within the group,
as well as throughout the organization. Lastly, if you have a
subject matter expert who has worked extensively on a file,
bring them to strategic/high-profile meetings so they can par-ticipate
and share their insights.
While it may feel that humility gets in the way of strong and
effective leadership, the available evidence paints a very differ-ent
picture. Indeed, research shows that humble executives are
more effective and have more highly engaged employees.
Perhaps it is time to refresh personal biases towards humil-ity.
Rather than seeing humility and strong leadership as oil and
water, it is more appropriate and effective to see them as pea-nut
butter and jelly, which combine wonderfully to reach their
full potential. Only when we see strength in humility will lead-ers,
their teams and their organizations truly be at their best. n
Craig Dowden is the president of Craig Dowden & Associates.
Attend his presentations, “Civility Matters,” on Jan. 30 at 11 a.m.,
and, “Do Good to Lead Well: The Power of Humility,” on Jan 30
at 3 p.m.
hr career path
EMPLOYEES WHO REPORTED
WORKING FOR HUMBLE LEADERS
WERE SIGNIFICANTLY HAPPIER,
MORE PRODUCTIVE AND
EXPERIENCED HIGHER LEVELS
OF JOB SATISFACTION.
stockbroker / 123RF
36 ❚ CONFERENCE ISSUE 2019 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL