There is one leadership characteristic that is seldom noticed, and rarely celebrated. And yet it stands alone among leadership qualities, as invaluable as it is scarce.
What makes humility distinct is that it is most apparent when it is absent, when it is not exhibited; its impact more evident not when it is present, but instead, when it’s not.
Humility is often overlooked as a vital leadership quality because it sometimes gets confused with a lack of confidence or self-esteem. But humility is, in fact, a strength. It enables a leader to be objective and honest about one’s abilities and limitations, to sustain a healthy sense of self-respect without being over-confident or egotistical.
Humility increases a leader’s awareness about the valuable contributions of others, enabling expressions of appreciation or credit. It facilitates empathy, and openness to new ideas or perspectives, while relieving the pressure of having all the answers or always needing to be right. By doing so, it reveals vulnerability, a key element of a leader’s authenticity.
On the other hand, low confidence or self-esteem is often characterized by an unwillingness or inability to change, to make excuses for negative behavior, or to blame others for one’s shortcomings. When faced with adversity, the response is minimal willingness to confront the challenge or find a better way forward. There should be no confusion between these traits and those modelled by the humble leader.
Humility in leadership is defined by these qualities:
- Accessibility that boosts authenticity and influence, while promoting belonging and inclusion;
- Transparency that reveals confidence, and the willingness to credit others or admit mistakes;
- Curiosity to nurture a culture of discovery and learning, focused on improvement and innovation;
- Collaboration and active listening that promotes dialogue, idea sharing, and commitment;
- Compassion and empathy that creates space to learn, grow, and make mistakes.
Humility makes leaders better, facilitating improved results, productive talent development, and improved business sustainability.
How do you assess your level of humility in leadership?