Why Being Humble Makes You a Better Leader

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There is something remarkable about humble leaders. It could be the way they make you feel when they communicate; it could be the fact that you feel drawn to going out of your way to be a part of what they’re doing; or it could be the way they model what you want to become.  

According to research in the Academy of Management Journal, humble leaders actually “embolden individuals to aspire to their highest potential and enables them to make the incremental improvements necessary to progress toward that potential.” 

Being a humble leader pays off in the performance category, but what’s most remarkable is the vast majority of humble leaders have every reason, because of their accomplishments to reject humility, but instead they embrace it. They don’t just talk about it, but it’s built into who they are and how they lead. It’s as if deep down, they understand that the path to effective leadership is paved with humility, not pride.  

Great leaders understand that the path to effective leadership is paved with humility, not pride.  

Most leaders grasp this concept because, before their achievements, they encountered strain in the form of failures, challenges, and or heartaches.  

What is Humility?

When you think of some famous recent leaders like Donald Trump, Elon Musk, or Jeff Bezos, humility is far from the first leadership trait that comes to mind. Whether you believe those leaders have humility or not, we often don’t think of humility in leaders because we don’t know what it is.

Websters defines it as; freedom from pride or arrogance, the quality or state of being humble. Being humble isn’t a lack of confidence or not believing in yourself. In fact, quite the opposite is true. To have freedom from pride and arrogance, it must start from a place of introspection.

C.S. Lewis said, “humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” 

In an article a few years ago, the Washington Post found: “True humility, scientists have learned, is when someone has an accurate assessment of both his strengths and weaknesses, and he sees all this in the context of the larger whole. He’s a part of something far greater than he. He knows he isn’t the center of the universe. And he’s both grounded and liberated by this knowledge. Recognizing his abilities, he asks how he can contribute. Recognizing his flaws, he asks how he can grow.”

So the natural question is, if you struggle with humility or want to be a more humble leader, how do you do it? It won’t be easy, but here’s how to get started.

Start with the Truth

I have written before, “all improvement starts with the truth.” When it comes to humility, being a humble leader also starts with the truth. Philadelphia 76ers basketball coach Doc Rivers said, “Average players want to be left alone. Good players want to be coached. Great players want to be told the truth.”  

The truth is every position that exists today will one day be held by someone else. The President of the United States, The Pope, and even your current role will one day be someone else’s seat. Allow this truth to sink into your soul.  

You have a significant role to play while you have it, and you should give everything you can to do meet your potential, but it can’t and shouldn’t be all about you. It has to be about elevating others and helping those around you become the best version of themselves.

Stay a Student

Some of the signs of an arrogant leader include; not listening, always wanting to be right, avoiding accountability, and thinking they know it all. A humble leader looks and feels much different. They admit when they make mistakes and are obsessed with learning.  

TD Jakes mentioned in his new book, Don’t Drop the Mic, “The world is a university, and everyone in it is a teacher. Make sure you wake up and go to school your entire life learning from the good and the bad.”

It reminds me of when I interviewed Villanova’s head coach Jay Wright for an episode of the Follow My Lead Podcast right after they had won the national championship. He heard a quote from Napoleon about leadership during the show, and I watched him grab a pen and write it down. After we had finished recording, he said, “I hadn’t heard that quote, and I want to use it with my team.”

Wright had every right to feel like he had learned it all because of his team’s success, but instead, he continued to embrace the mindset of staying a student, which you and I must do as well. If at any point you stop learning, you will be dying.  

Embrace Accountability

One of the most significant mistakes leaders in choosing pride over humility is avoiding accountability. Instead of inviting people in their lives to be feedback vehicles, they decide to go it alone. In the beginning, it isn’t a big deal. But as time goes on, the lies and thoughts in one’s head become their reality. Those thoughts then become engrained in their behavior, and it’s what other people experience. 

The vaccine for this situation is to embrace accountability. Put people around you who keep you grounded and are willing to have difficult dialogues when they recognize something is off. Then you keep an open mind and heart to the words they say without getting defensive or making excuses.  

I recognize this is easy to write but difficult to put into practice. But the best part, is when your team sees you embracing accountability, they will embrace it as well.

Closing

The best leaders indeed understand that the path to effective leadership is paved with humility and not pride. However, it doesn’t mean it’s easy, or it doesn’t mean you won’t have moments where pride or ego win you over. The key is to recognize these moments and get back on the humility path as quickly as possible. 

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.Report

Why Bad Leaders Fall in Love with Fear

“Don’t make decisions based on irrational fears.”


When the Coronavirus first appeared on the news, it was a distant epidemic and seemed like nothing to fear (at least for those of us outside of China). As the virus spread, everyone’s feelings evolved and eventually manifested into widespread fear as businesses closed, and stock markets plummeted.  

While we’ve been taught that fear is bad, that isn’t all true. Fear is simply an emotion of the mind and it’s triggered by the perception of danger, whether that danger is real or imagined. Leaders now have the choice to either fall in love with fear and allow it to crush their team or to use fear to fuel their future. 

Take Steven, an experienced division president of an established company, for example. As the Coronavirus threat increased, he fell in love with fear. He became consumed with reading and watching the news. In every email or conversation, he talked about the “struggle” and “how hard and difficult” times were going to be, without ever focusing on how they were going to address these challenges. His team followed suit, and at this point, all productivity and achievement have screeched to a halt.  

You see, there are two kinds of fear: rational and irrational. Steven let the irrational fear take over. 

Rational Fear

Our brains are wired to keep us safe, so not all fear is bad. Rational fear keeps us humble, teachable, and respectful of real threats. It allows us to continue to be others-centered, think powerfully, and maintain a sound mind. Rational fear knows it’s ok to experience the emotions of the mind, but not allow it to take hold of us.  

For example, the threat of danger in the current environment is real. Many people are becoming sick and dying because of the Coronavirus. Rational fear tells us it’s wise to practice social distancing, wash our hands, and work remotely.  

Irrational Fear

If we aren’t careful, rational fear can turn into irrational fear. Irrational fear can choke growth, stifle innovation, drain our courage, and paralyze us into inaction. If that wasn’t enough, it can lead to inactivity and a lethargic state of being. 

Irrational fear manifests what is feared. It turns itself into anxiety, worry, and panic that spirals of control. It only allows you to focus on what negative things “might” or “could” happen in the future. Don’t make decisions based on irrational fears.

Don’t make decisions based on irrational fears.

The most significant obstacle leaders face today is their teams falling into a cloud of irrational fear and doubt. So to help you overcome this obstacle, here are a few things you can do to mitigate these fears for your team: 

Level set on the facts

It’s going to be damn near impossible to overcome irrational fear if you are dealing with feelings over facts. Your job is to be educated on the facts of the situation to the best of your ability.  

This doesn’t mean you need to know the exact number of reported worldwide cases and deaths caused by COVID-19. It does mean establishing a baseline with your employees on their “new normal” including working from home policies, how to company is appropriately responding to the virus, and what you and the company are doing to prevent massive layoffs. 

Admit you’re concerned 

People believe leaders who show their vulnerability and admit their concern when faced with a difficult situation. Just this week, Jeff Bezos sent a company-wide letter to all employees at Amazon and he started it with a powerful statement: “This isn’t business as usual, and it’s a time of great stress and uncertainty. It’s also a moment in time when the work we are doing is most critical.”

Bezos is telling his team that he is concerned and uncertain. It’s a powerful lesson in leadership because he knows they are thinking about those things as well (in addition to working in stressful situations and putting themselves in harm’s way). To act like nonchalant would have been a massive mistake.  

Inspire action

The way forward and to help any problematic situation is through action. You can’t tell your team to do, you must inspire action. In Building the Best, I wrote about the role a leader has to play to inspire or “breathe life into” their people. 

One of the best ways to inspire action is to focus on words that remind people of their purpose and help them stay positive. Bezos did a phenomenal job of this by saying, “It’s also a moment in time when the work we are doing is most critical.”  

In recent research by Todd Herman of 29 CEO’s and how they are reacting to the Coronavirus, he found some stark differences in strategy-focused CEOs and fear-focused CEOs.

Strategy-focused CEOs are: 

  • 9 Times more likely to be shifting product/service offerings.
  • 6 Times more likely to use words like ‘action’ and ‘opportunity.’

Be thoughtful of the words you use to your team because it will help create a better reality. 

Turn to hope and courage

The antidote to irrational fear is hope. Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on positive outcomes. When hope is at the center of people’s minds instead of fear, it leads to courageous actions.  

Mark Twain famously said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Harry S. Truman shared similar sentiments when he said, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”

Have faith and rely on hope when communicating with your team. While the outcomes might not be exactly what they were a month ago, you’ll give your team the best chance for creating positive outcomes in the current situation. 

Closing

Here’s the best part about fear: you choose your thoughts and how you lead others. Are you going to level set on the facts, admit your concern, inspire others, and turn to hope or are you going to allow irrational fear to take over?  

What do you do to provide hope to your people? Do you agree?

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making victual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.