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  • Writer's pictureNancy Dering Mock

The Challenge of Humility

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

When many people think of leadership, they jump to strength, oratory, self-confidence and power. This "heroic" view of leadership is a vestige of a military, political or bureaucratic style of leading others. The concept of humility doesn't quite seem to fit.

Yet, the characteristic of humility factors well in the "post-heroic" style of leadership. It refers to the willingness to keep one's ego in check. It means believing that a leader is not superior or infallible. In this context, It does not mean meekness or shyness. Picture the opposite of arrogant.

Often when people reflect on leaders they have worked with whom they admire, they will cite things like, "down to earth," "not full of himself," or "didn't take herself overly seriously." This reflects the respect and credibility that leaders garner when they rely more on humility and less on self-importance. Here are a few approaches to doing just that:

  1. Keep your ego in check. Stop reading your own press releases and dwelling in your own self-importance. Modesty is not outdated. Check how many times you use "I" in memos and meetings.

  2. You do not know it all. It's impossible. The ideas and solutions may reside in others, not you. When you don't know, admit it. Make concerted efforts to invite ideas and solutions from others. Then listen.

  3. Acknowledge missteps. When you've made a mistake, acknowledge it. Don't dwell on explaining it away; focus on discussing how you will correct it.

  4. Apologize. If you have offended or slighted someone, or treated another person poorly, apologize. If you embarrassed someone, apologize. If you have embarrassed someone in front of a group, apologize in front of that group. This is human decency.

In organizations where power and authority are the currency of success, leaders can be lured to believe in their own superiority and self-importance, often to their own detriment. The antidote to this arrogance in leadership is the incredible power of self-regulation and humility.

DIscussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. Reflect on the concept of "post-heroic leadership." Describe the attributes of this style.

  2. In your experience, what impact does the leader's arrogance have on a team?

  3. Why do some leaders find it difficult to acknowledge missteps or apologize?

  4. How can leader's develop a more humble approach to leading?

  5. What are the implications for leaders? For you?

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