Leadership Humility: A Skill Critical to Becoming and Remaining a Great Leader

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less. - Rick Warren
Written by Chad Storlie on May 24, 2018
Leadership Humility: A Skill Critical to Becoming and Remaining a Great Leader

Create a list of traits of what you expect a great leader to have. You probably named charisma, a strategic vision, experience, a robust education, previous leadership experience, and the list goes on.  What you probably did not list was humility.  Leaders must possess a large and available supply of humility if they plan to be successful during times of dynamic and critical change. 

1.  Humility is Vital for Leaders Because It Allows Them to Be Open to Change. Humble leaders are great leaders before, during, and after times of major change because they know they do not have all the answers or experience. This knowledge helps make leaders open to take suggestions from their team, examine all the available evidence, try experiments to see if use concepts work, and judge the results using data and evidence and not by their previous experience.

2.  Humility Is Vital for Leaders Because It Allows Them to Admit Their Mistakes. Humble leaders can also admit their mistakes easier than other leaders because they admittedly and openly recognize that mistakes and false paths can occur. By not stating they have all the answers, these humble leaders are in the admirable position to adapt and to change their positions to find what does work for the organization. A leader that can admit mistakes, focuses on how to evaluate outcomes for the best results for the organization, and worries on making an effective decision and not on how that decision may make them look is a great leadership style.

3.  Humility Is Vital for Leaders Because It Allows Them to Be Approachable to Subordinates. Humble leaders show a great openness to subordinates, their ideas, and how to incorporate ideas from subordinates into creating and maintaining a great organization. For any organization, the greatest ongoing problem, according to the Gallup organization, is how to foster a cultural atmosphere of engagement. Engagement is where employees and team members are actively and productively engaged in solving the organization’s problems in a way that is simultaneously best for employees, customers, the community, and other stakeholders. Leadership approachability builds an organization’s cohesion and engagement.

4.  Humility Is Vital for Leaders Because It Allows Them to Be Teaching & Training the Next Generation of Leaders. A humble leader acknowledges there can and will be better leaders than themselves. Additionally, humble leaders also consider themselves to be “servant leaders” and servant leaders are teachers within and outside of the organization. When you lead, you also teach. Leaders that are humble can be effective teachers because a great teacher seeks to build knowledge and effectiveness in others so that students can eventually become teachers. A humble leader knows learning and teaching never end in a career. A humble leader is constantly seeking to improve their knowledge and seek evidence and examples for what they already know so their teaching skills remain fresh and vibrant. 

5.  Humility Is Vital for Leaders Because It Allows Them to Be Focused on What Truly Matters: People. Organizations change, new products are introduced, and business cycles go up and down. In my opinion, what a humble leader truly values are the people in the organization, the customers they serve, members of the community, and the outside suppliers that help the company succeed. When you see people as the most important resource in the company and customers as the most important people the company serves, then you truly understand how to make an organization great. Too often, business leaders can focus on the budget, a profit & loss statement, or the next quarterly earnings release. These leaders lose sight that customers, employees, friends, and family are what, in the long run, make a company truly great, build loyal customers, and create happy children. A humble leader remembers that in the end, people, customers, and employees are the most important product any company produced.

The final element of a humble leader is having a leadership style that fosters and promotes a leadership by example atmosphere. I loved doing “ramp blasts” parachute jumps in the Special Forces where the jumpmaster leads their stick off the aircraft.  I lead these not only because they were thrilling, but because I put the most inexperienced jumper right behind me as the jumpmaster.  This way during the last equipment and static line check, the most inexperienced jumper would perform the final check on the jumpmaster.  Humble leaders find ways to trust, to listen, to teach, and to perform to the highest levels constantly.  Be a humble leader so you can be a constantly improving leader – the definition of a great leader.

What qualities do you think make a great leader?


Photos courtesy of author.

ABOUT CHAD STORLIE: Chad is the author of two books how to translate and apply military experience to business: (1) Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and (2) Battlefield to Business Success. Chad is a retired US Army Special Forces officer with 20+ years of service in Infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He has served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He has been awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. Chad is a mid-level marketing executive and has worked in marketing and sales roles for various companies, including General Electric, Comcast, and Manugistics. Chad has been published in the Harvard Business Review blog, Military.com, and the Oxford Leadership Journal. He has been featured in news stories in Inc, Business Week, the New York Post, Federal Computer Weekly, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Chad holds a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.

Follow Chad @ CombatToCorp and www.CombatToCorporate.com

Courtesy of USAA