At the end of one of my recent talks, the audience questioned the value of humility as a leadership quality in the 21st Century. So much is shared and written about personal brand, self-promotion and being a ‘go to expert’ that there doesn’t seem to be a space for humility in work or life. In fact, couldn’t humility be detrimental to your career, perhaps being misinterpreted as lack of confidence?
In one sense they were right, I haven’t heard of humility being measured on an end of year appraisal. However, I don’t think that you can bridge differences, develop relationships and create inclusive environments without humility. Because to understand others you have to step back from knowing it all and listen, not just to wait your turn to speak, but to understand deeply. A recent Catalyst study backs this up, showing that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included
A definition of humility that makes sense to me is: Humility is the acceptance of your own flaws and shortcomings, I believe that all leaders should do this.
Think about the last time pride or ego raised its head in your life? A time when you felt the need to share your own importance or the importance of your actions; You may have wanted to show someone else that you were superior, been acting in your own self-interest, or maybe you used false modesty to put yourself down in order to hear others tell you how good or important you are.
Perhaps you were arguing with your partner about why you shouldn’t be the one to unload the dishwasher after a busy day?
Or maybe you took the credit for a project that the whole team worked on?
Or you exaggerated your achievements to a potential client?
How did this actually help the relationship? How did you feel about yourself? Could being humble have taken you further?
Humility may come naturally to you, but if it doesn’t, here are 6 things that you can do to foster it:
- Ask for feedback.
Humility involves an accurate view of yourself. Have you asked for feedback in the last 7 days from friends, family, colleagues, or clients? Ask close friends to be really honest about three things they appreciate about you and three areas where you might need some growth. You can be proud of your strengths, while working on your development areas.
- Confront your prejudices.
Humility is about having an open mind, but we all have prejudices and biases. So we have to think about how we can challenge our prejudices, we could firstly become more aware of them, using something like the implicitly bias test and then work on them. For example, if I found that I had a bias against those from a certain religion, it would be good for me to spend time with people from that faith in order to deepen my understanding and connection with them.
- Start with a question.
As a coach asking open questions comes really naturally to me. The power of these questions is that it allows everyone to participate. There is a lovely saying by Suzuki, ‘In the mind of the expert there are few possibilities, in the mind of the beginner there are many.’ If you think you already know everything or act like you do, other people will check out, and things won’t get done as quickly or as well.
- Really listen.
You can ask many questions, but if you don’t listen to the responses, it will be a waste of time. Listening does not mean that you agree, but it does help dial down your own pride. Yours is not the only way of thinking or doing. After someone shares an opinion or experience, take a moment to digest what he or she said before you speak.
- Accept setbacks.
We’ve all been humbled by our own or other’s experiences, haven’t we? Humility allows you to accept challenges without the fear of failure. And when those failures inevitably come, you can use what you learned to do it better next time.
- Practice gratitude
Practice an attitude of gratitude. It’s impossible to maintain your self-centeredness when feeling grateful for all you have.
And a final thought – Be careful not to mistake insecurity and inadequacy for humility! Humility has nothing to do with the insecure and inadequate! Just like arrogance has nothing to do with greatness!
Further Resources to develop your humility
ONLINE PROGRAMME: The Happenista Project Step 1, provides videos and resources to enable you to foster an attitude of gratitude [14 short videos – 1 Hour, plus resources]
WEBINAR: Using Coaching Skills as a Leader, enter your name and email address to access it free of charge immediately [45 mins]
WEBINAR Being An Inclusive Leader enter your name and email address to access it free of charge immediately [30 mins]
AUDIO: Interview with Jackee Holder Why We Need More Compassion in Business [30 mins]
VARIOUS RESOURCES Podcasts, links, books and top tips on giving and receiving Feedback
WORKBOOK The Path to Humility [completion over 2 weeks]
EVENTS The Happenista Retreat is the perfect 1 or 2 day transformational space to increase your self-awareness, become more aware of your strengths and development areas.
This blog is part of a series of articles on leadership qualities; you can find links to others here