“I could be wrong here… What am I missing?”
You don’t hear leaders say humble words like these very often. Leadership, even today, is often strict and authoritative, bordering on “I am right. Always.”
And why should it be different? Isn’t humility a sign of weakness? Why should leaders admit that they don’t know everything, make mistakes, and sometimes need help from their colleagues?
Let’s start with an answer to this last question: science confirms, study after study, that humble leaders are indeed better leaders! They are more effective and their performance is higher. Humility can indeed be called a “competitive advantage”.
How can this be?
Humility certainly is the “underdog” among leadership skills. This is partly due to a handful of misconceptions and an undeservedly bad reputation. Let’s start clearing humility’s name!
First, humility doesn’t mean subordination. It also doesn’t mean never speaking up or never taking credit for great work. And it’s also not what Kim Scott, in her book “Radical Candor”, called “ruinous empathy”.
What is it, then?
This is a crucial aspect of humility. Because the opposite — believing you don’t make mistakes or are better / more intelligent / more capable than your colleagues — has serious negative effects:
Before I pitchfork you into a depression about our current state of leadership, let’s talk about the positive effects you can expect when humility is present:
But it’s not only great for employees and teams. Humility is also extremely beneficial for leaders, because it takes the pressure off of them:
Finally, let’s address the big pink elephant in the room...
A simple but very powerful approach lies in the language we use. In meetings and One-on-Ones, practice using sentences like the following more often:
On the one hand, this demonstrates that you, too, are just made of flesh and bones. It encourages people to speak up and contribute their own thoughts and ideas. And it shows your appreciation if you actively seek out their opinions.
On the other hand, just to reassure you once more, you don’t have to worry about losing your credibility as a result. Quite the contrary: the research I’ve mentioned at the beginning shows that humility can become a competitive advantage for leaders. And that humble leaders tend to be the most effective ones!
I’ll leave you with a quote from management consultant and author Frédéric Laloux. In his book “Reinventing Organizations”, he writes about a company called “Sun Hydraulics”, where humility has already permeated a large part of the corporate culture:
“At Sun Hydraulics, people have dropped the illusion that one person, however competent, could master all the information of such a complex system and heroically, from above, make the right call for hundreds of decisions that need to be made every week. Instead, they trust the collective intelligence of the system."
Let me know what you think in the comments!
And don’t hesitate to get in touch with me: I will (humbly) admit that I don’t know it all, but I’m happy to help ;-)