6 Principles of Humility

There are many things in my opinion that are overrated.  For example, the Dallas Cowboys for the last fifteen years have been overrated.  I also think self-celebration is overrated.  The abundance of touchdown dances and “look-at-me” reality TV shows are more self-serving than entertaining.

Demonstrating modesty has been underrated.  Yet, when you read some significant thinkers in the corporate world like Jim Collins or in the church world like Larry Osborne, they think it is the essential ingredient of good leadership.

In 2013, the Harvard Business Review had an article on how to cultivate humility as a leader.  Authors John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin suggested that every developing leader should be taught these 6 principles of humility:

  1. Know what you don’t know.  The higher you climb up the proverbial corporate ladder, the greater the temptation it is to believe that you are the smartest person in the room.  But deep down, you know that you don’t have all of the answers.  You may not even have all of the questions.  Know when to defer and delegate.
  2. Resist falling for your own publicity.  Part of the leadership role is to maintain a positive outlook.  Your confidence boosts that of your team and your customers.  While it’s important to have a positive outlook, it’s just as important to correctly assess reality.  Keep your spirits high, but your judgment at an even keel. 
  3. Never underestimate the competition.  No matter how smart you are, how many hours you are willing to put in, or how creative your team is, do not allow a residue of hubris to form around your culture. There is always competition for your customer’s attention.
  4. Embrace and promote a spirit of service.  The term servant leadership was coined by Dr. Robert K. Greenleaf in the late 1960s.  In his book, Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, Greenleaf writes, “The great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness.”  Use you power for the sake of others.
  5. Listen, especially to the weird ideas.  Dame and Gedmin write that “the most imaginative and valuable ideas tend to come from left field, from some associate who seems a little offbeat, and may not hold an exalted position in the organization.”  Step outside of your inner circle to get a fresh perspective.
  6. Be passionately curious.  Leading during uncertainty and change requires a healthy dose of curiosity.  Without curiosity, we are unable to sustain our attention, we avoid risks, and, essentially, stagnate. Embrace curiosity and promote it among your team.

Larry Osborne, in his 2013 article in Leadership Journal, believes that every leader must avoid the 3 curses of leadership failures:  the curse of the spotlight, the curse of hype, and the curse of leadership ADHD. Osborne recommends keeping leadership hubris in check by leading with a low profile, underselling and over delivering, and keeping the team focused on strategic goals.

The first task of any leader is to assess reality correctly.  You can’t do that well without humility.

Question: What specific actions are you taking to remain humble as a leader?