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Lindsay Bell

The How-tos of Humility in Leadership

By: Lindsay Bell | April 17, 2013 | 
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The How-tos of Humility in LeadershipI have a great leader.

Ok, Danny Brown, bring on the ‘brown nosing’ jokes.

But say what you will, it simply is fact.

I can say this because I’m old.

Being old usually means you have (hopefully) achieved a few things.

Have a bit of life experience and some perspective.

And have worked under a number of different leaders in the course of your career.

I certainly have, and most of them weren’t worth writing home about.

Speak from Experience

In fact, the various leaders I have had the (dis) pleasure of working with in the past have included despots, control freaks, paranoics, and patronizers. Gini Dietrich is none of those things.

The reason Gini is none of those things – her personality aside – is because she humbly recognized something early on: If she was going to be a great leader, she had to lead herself first.

She’s spoken openly about using various career or leadership coaches, in order to better not only herself, but her entire team and, ultimately, her company and its future.

Humility Helps

The word humble isn’t often associated with leaders. It speaks of deference, of submission. One gives ‘a humble apology.’ Arrogant people are ‘humbled’ when taken down a notch.

But humility in leadership has been found to be one of the most important traits to have.

Humble bosses lead at a very human level:

  • They lead by example.
  • They admit mistakes.
  • They recognize – and nurture – their follower’s strengths.

Researchers from the University of Boston have found those three leadership qualities are powerful predictors of the potential for an organization’s growth. These ‘humble leaders’ encourage learning, believe in team work, and are generally seen as more likeable and relatable than egotistical bosses. Not surprisingly, humble leaders experience lower staff turnover.

Another interesting tidbit from this study? Experienced white male leaders end up reaping the most benefits from this so-called ‘selfless leadership style,’ perhaps because it’s so unexpected and unusual for experienced white male leaders to lead that way. Of course, ‘unexpected and unusual’ is a generalization, but hey, history speaks for itself.

The How-tos of Humility in Leadership

So how can leaders embrace their humble side? Let’s Grow Leaders has compiled nine fantastic ways for leaders to achieve humility:

  • Understand they don’t have all the answers– and search for more.
  • Attract those who will tell the truth– and be able to hear them.
  • Reflect on their own leadership– and seek out change as needed.
  • Read about other approaches– and adjust.
  • Seek mentors– from all levels.
  • Share more about themselves and create connections.
  • Seek to learn about the people they work with– and see them as people.
  • Try new behaviors and ask for feedback.
  • Take stands against the politically correct choice.

My experience here at Spin Sucks and at Arment Dietrich these last six months has shown me our leader practices all of the above. Say I’m brown nosing if you will, but the facts don’t lie.

So, I ask you – what type of leader are you, or do you work for? And do you feel there’s room for humility in great leaders, or could it be perceived as a sign of weakness?

Thanks to N2 Growth for the image. 

About Lindsay Bell


Lindsay Bell is the content director at Arment Dietrich, and works in Toronto. A former TV producer, she’s a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. She has a cool kid, a patient husband, two annoying cats, and Hank Dawge, a Vizsla/Foxhound/moose hybrid. Ok, maybe not moose.

111 comments
dbvickery
dbvickery

I wrote an entire 12 Most series - 12 adjectives for every letter in the alphabet - to describe my views on great leadership. Some form of "humbleness" consistently shows up as an attribute...to go along with competence, confidence, and integrity!

Andrea T.H.W.
Andrea T.H.W.

Definitely correct Lindsay, and your post explains pretty well why there are so many bosses around and so few leaders. And forget about Italy.


I'm my own leader so from time to time it's a difficult relationship. :D


Tweeted and Facebooked.


Happy weekend!

TaraGeissinger
TaraGeissinger

I run a virtual company with my business partner (who lives across the country from me.) In fact our entire team is spread out across the country! I think the biggest reason for our success is the fact that we place so much trust and respect in our family of team members. We choose to work with people because they are extraordinary, we train them on our internal structure and policies and then we let them do their jobs! Because we respect and value their opinions, we often implement their suggestions or listen when they're sharing something new with regards to SEO or content marketing. 

From what I can tell, it seems Gini leads in the same way. I think leaders fail when they don't have the confidence to admit they don't know everything and don't give their employees or contractors the freedom to grow. If people can't grow, they WILL look elsewhere.

jdrobertson
jdrobertson

LEADERSHIP: How easily the word rolls off the lips!

The Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) District encompasses 163 schools, 90,000 students, 20,000 employees and a budget of 1.3 billion dollars. We have had and continue to have a succession of less than satisfactory superintendents.The reason for this is simple: The board of Education who is responsible for the selection hasn’t got a clue when it comes to defining leadership.They think they do – but they don’t. They inevitably end up hiring some silver tongued devil with a great personality. Wouldn’t you think a group of people who are about to confer a mantel of great responsibility and a quarter million dollar salary should have at least a rudimentary knowledge of what it is they are looking for?

Leadership is learned – there are a very few “born” leaders! Even though the APS board of education advertises for and talks about wanting an outstanding leader – they (board) separately or together don’t have the slightest idea what they’re talking about. Worse! They continue to defend their choice and only make noises about getting rid of him/her around election time. By that time, however, we vote them out and replace them with another bunch of losers who will scream to the high heavens, “this time we will find a “real” leader,” not, of course, knowing what a leader is!

Leadership is so important to the military formal classes in the subject begin in basic training. The higher the rank the more intricate the courses become. A prerequisite to certain superior rankings requires formal extended leadership training in an academic environment.

Bearing in mind: A leader is not paid for what he does rather for what he can get others to do.

a.He must know himself.

b.He must know his people.

c.He must know his job.

To assist him in this endeavor he must, at the absolute minimum, have a solid background in such subjects as: (alphabetical order)

·Communications – both oral and aural.

·Creative Problem Solving

·Decision Making

·Delegation

·Leadership

·Listening

·Motivation

·Perception

·Resistance to Change

·Self Development

·Understanding Human Behavior

Leadership is the life blood of any company yet how many companies do you know actually ask prospective employees about their leadership experience or for that matter offer on-going in- house instruction in leadership?

belllindsay
belllindsay

@Andrea T.H.W. "I'm my own leader so from time to time it's a difficult relationship." - HA! That made me laugh out loud! Thanks for the shares, and you have a great weekend too! :D 

belllindsay
belllindsay

@TaraGeissinger You're definitely doing it right Tara! I once held a WFH job where every single thing I did was monitored - to the point of even who I spoke with in different departments at the head office (which was in another province). There was a lot of paranoia and division between teams - I actually got into trouble for having a creative email exchange with another team *very* closely related to the team I worked on. It was crazy. And it was all down to our "leader" (not). I guess my point is that this type of bad leadership can happen in all types of work environments. WFH doesn't mean escape from the BS. And it's even harder with a bad leader. We're lucky. 

belllindsay
belllindsay

@jdrobertson Wow. Fantastic comment. Love the points you listed here - "Resistance to Change" is an interesting one. And to your point about the military - wouldn't it be great if the work world operated in that same way. Preparing people for eventual leadership by starting at the beginning of their careers?? That would be incredible. 

jdrobertson
jdrobertson

@belllindsay @jdrobertson Thank you for your endorsement. When you ask...if the work world... Preparing people for eventual leadership... My question to you would be, WHY doesn't the work world prepare their people for leadership? I have been asked on occasion to present a leadership course to several churches and fraternal organizations where the attendees come on their own time. We usually pack the hall - it's surprising how many people attend. The shipyard where I worked had an education department where the employees could attend these courses at night. One guy in apparent exasperation suggested to me, "You sound just like my wife!" That gave me a great idea - I invited all the wives to attend the class with a promise of a certificate of completion signed by the plant manager.. It took a couple of sessions but we most of the wives showed up. Interestingly, these ladies knew a lot about the shipyard and had suggestions for improvement that were picked up by management and later implemented.

novascotiarasta
novascotiarasta

@belllindsay Drop by, I'll throw you on the cross-bar. What is up with that Cross-bar only on the male bike? Death wish? Date Chair? :)

novascotiarasta
novascotiarasta

@belllindsay I want to start biking, but mornings are still too cold, going to be double-digits by afternoon, maybe a short ride then.

jdrobertson
jdrobertson

@belllindsay @jdrobertson Ms. Lindsay - seeing your interest in leadership - may I recommend a book? You will truly enjoy - if you haven't already read it - Up the Organization, by Robert Townsend,1970. It is short and a fun read but hard hitting. It  is the type of thing you'd keep on your desk.

belllindsay
belllindsay

@jdrobertson But that was my point - why the heck doesn't this happen already!? I love the idea of inviting the wives in - wow - brilliant. It's like when the CEO ignores a customer complaint or suggestion - um, hellooo! That person probably knows your brand and/or company better than YOU do, because they actually use it in their day to day lives. The wives LIVE it! LOL Absolutely brilliant. :) 

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