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  • Melissa Sims

Can Our Own Humility Make Us Better Leaders?

“The highest level of leadership builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” - Jim Collins

Seemingly, these two things don’t necessarily go together. We have, historically, viewed professionalism and leadership with personality traits that don’t typically blend with a trait like humility. But maybe we can change that view.

What is humility? This isn’t a question that can be answered succinctly. There are many things it is NOT: arrogance, hubris, pride, conceit, boastfulness. But it IS an acknowledgment that you do not know everything. It is asking for help. It is realizing that you need other people. It is understanding that you are not 100% independent and being grateful for the fact that you must depend on others in order to go through life. It allows you to see things more clearly, and contributes to your self-awareness and unbiased view of the world.

When we have a humble attitude, our focus turns inward instead of outward. We have less concern with how we are perceived, and more on how we can contribute. If you are driven by competition, you seek recognition and thrive on reward. If you are driven by contribution, there is no desire for reward, your desire is to see others thrive and to be a small part of the larger whole.

What are some ways that we can lead with humility?

Lead through questions.

Approach problems through curiosity. We want to adopt this mindset in order to avoid complacency and arrogant behavior. Understanding that others may know something you do not allows you to be open to new ideas and shows that you are willing to listen.

Use “I don’t know” in your responses. We all have our strong areas of skill and knowledge. We feel comfortable and confident answering questions and offering advice. But when we step out of our comfort zone and into a place of feeling incompetent, we often feel insecure and try to cover up our shortcomings. Learn how to confidently say, “I don’t know.” This encourages others to do the same, especially when you can acknowledge your limitations.

Shift from tell to ask. Just because someone is an employee or a team member, they don’t always love to be told what to do, or how to do it. A leader who uses too much telling and not enough asking is promoting dependent behavior within the team. When we let the ego step aside, and realize that people still have a choice whether or not to do something, asking is the way to go. Approaching a task with “I am hoping you can help me by doing this” rather than “you need to do this for me” is going to foster trust and enhance relationships.

OWN IT. A leader that can admit they have made a mistake, or that a failure is their own fault, earns trust and respect with their teams. It also encourages others to admit their errors as well by promoting a safe environment. Share your mistakes and acknowledge that mistakes are human and we will all make them! A team that can collaborate honestly and openly is going to be the most successful and happy team.

Humility is an acknowledgment of truth and people greatly value truth. Leading with humility shows your acknowledgement that you need the people you are surrounded by, it shows a faith in their ability, and it provides a safe space for those in your environment to feel they can offer ideas, advice, and constructive criticism to improve the greater picture.


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