One of the most basic but undervalued attributes of excellent leaders is humility. In today’s business community, many leaders value confidence above humility, which has resulted in some high-profile problems and scandals, such as the recent departure of Travis Kalanick from his position as CEO of Uber. The startup environment has resulted in a more casual work culture, but it has also encouraged mavericks who in many ways develop a personality cult. Research from Harvard Business School shows that even experienced board members tend to show bias toward CEOs who display bravado and brashness.
However, this hubristic approach is not always the best for business. In fact, hubris can create more walls than it tears down in the long run. Humble leaders are more able to build lasting relationships and show their employees, business partners, and customers that they are down to earth and possess the inner strength necessary for restraint, careful planning, and rationality. Some of the other benefits of humility in leadership include:
Humble leaders accept the fact that they may not always have the best ideas, and they remain more open to the suggestions of people around them. In other words, humble leaders are more open to experimentation. It is this willingness to embrace the unknown that drives innovation at a company. A lack of humility often comes with the need to control everything, which can cause the company to take fewer chances. With humility, leaders assess each situation and decide which calculated risks are worth taking. These risks are what can make a company really thrive and develop creative, innovative ideas that push the boundaries of their field.
Hubris can make leaders think that they have already achieved great things, or that they or their company don’t have any weaknesses that should be addressed. Even if he or she has achieved major successes, the humble leader accepts that there’s always room for improvement and thus pushes for improvement constantly. In general, humble leaders have a more realistic view of how their brand and products are performing on the market, and this viewpoint makes them more capable of identifying the next steps to take. Humility helps leaders look honestly at what has gone well and what has not, so that they can make changes that will make the company stronger. In addition, humble leaders know that their success relies on their customers and are thus more likely to take customer feedback seriously.
Few things hurt morale at a company more than micromanagement. When employees feel like they aren’t trusted to do their jobs well, they may simply stop trying. Leaders who place their trust and faith in their employees inspire them to do better. This trust and faith derives from a place of humility. Leaders who do not trust their employees are essentially telling these people that they do not think they are good at their jobs, and that the leader doesn’t really need them. Humble leaders, on the other hand, recognize other people’s strengths and listen when their employees have ideas for improving the product or some operational process. In this context, humility builds trust and inspires employees to work harder and achieve more. After all, no one wants to feel like an automaton at work.
Self-reflective leaders can recognize their personal strengths and weaknesses, which helps them lead more effectively and address their flaws. Hubris impedes this process. No one is perfect, and leaders need to recognize that they can always become better. Humility helps leaders be honest with themselves in identifying targets for improvement. When employees see their leaders engage in this self-reflection, they are encouraged to become more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. Plus, these employees become more responsive to the feedback that leaders provide them.
Excellent leaders understand that they need to be transparent with the decisions they make. When leaders do not embrace transparency, the company culture can quickly become crippled. Employees may begin to feel insecure in their own positions if they do not understand why decisions are made, and what priorities guide the company’s actions. This fear can cause productivity to wane and could even promote unethical behavior. A humble leader accepts the need for transparency and understands how honesty affects everyone in the workplace. An arrogant leader may not admit to mistakes, which destroys transparency and can diminish any sense of respect from employees.
Selfish leaders do not impress their team members. Research has shown that teams function best when they know their leader is looking out for the team’s best interests. A leader who lacks humility may not take the time to develop personal relationships with colleagues and employees and thus may not understand what kind of support they need or what motivates them to work harder. A humble leader embraces selflessness and takes the time to get to know employees and create the best environment for the group. This approach does not mean holding employees’ hands through difficult assignments, but rather ensuring that they have the tools and support necessary to get the job done.