Humility in Leadership

What matters is how you make others feel

I like to observe people around me — their habits, thought processes and interactions with others. My belief is that if I can absorb and adopt even a small portion of what I observe, it’ll help me improve myself. In the process of understanding how people operate, I also inadvertently observe how they inspire and lead others. This may be influencing a peer or leading a 1000-person organization. I’ve concluded people are inspired by clarity of thought and vision, but more importantly, the humility with which that vision is articulated.

Humility empowers the speaker, disarms the listener, and forms the foundation of a trusting relationship. I’ve noticed influencers who are condescending and abrupt, and even though they are saying the right thing and have the correct vision — they are unable to earn the trust of others. They can’t rally the same support as a counterpart who is humble and genuine. So much of leadership is how you frame something and make someone feel.

Humility earns the respect, admiration and dedication of the team. Humility is mystical, for how can someone who has achieved great success be so down to earth — you wonder and admire simultaneously.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. — Maya Angelou

So how do I gauge humility? I see whether

  • The person encourages open discussion and dissent, without interrupting
  • The person gives their time, and undivided attention when talking to you
  • The person makes you feel proud to be yourself

A leader who cannot fulfill these traits of courtesy and respect is not a leader worth working for. Humility is not difficult. It is a mixture of time, attention, tone and making someone else believe they are valued. Separate the capability of your mind or power of your position, and think about how what you’re saying makes other people feel.

I know I have a long way to go myself, but I know surrounding myself with humble leaders may help me get there faster. I only want to work for those who I can look up to and learn from. I will make an honest effort to become more humble, with the first step to give 100% attention while talking to someone else and being mindful of when I interrupt them.

Need more convincing? Read this article by HBR on humility.

So, what small change will you do to become more humble? Because…

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. — Thomas Merton