When you think of great business leaders, you likely think of people who possess qualities like confidence and intelligence. We’re here to set the record straight. Too often, we commend individuals for specific traits while disregarding other “soft skills” that create healthy, productive work environments to help employees thrive. What if we told you that thoughtfulness, vulnerability, and emotional intelligence were equally as important qualities for an effective leader as influence and agility? What if we told you that the higher you’re placed in an organization, the more humbly you should walk?
Let’s take a look at humble leadership, why it’s important, and nine tips that can help you manage, delegate, and act with humility at work.
What is humble leadership?
Humility can be defined as the ability to see yourself as who you are. At work, this means that you recognize your strengths and are able to celebrate wins, while also understanding your weaknesses and limitations. Being a humble leader also means that you possess a desire to learn, a can-do attitude, and active listening skills and that you’re focused on collaboration above all else. Humility can manifest in different ways, but a key similarity in most individuals is that humble leaders are focused on growth and self-improvement. They’re often compassionate and are willing to admit when they’re wrong.
Meetings worth showing up to
A well-run meeting can foster communication and collaboration by including an agenda the whole team can contribute to. Try using a tool like Fellow!
Why is humble leadership important?
1 Builds team rapport
Everyone has had a boss at one time with a “holier than thou” attitude. Not only can this behaviour breed a toxic workplace culture, but it also discourages collaboration within a team. Managers who practice humble leadership don’t believe they’re any better than their employees. This humility allows them to more easily build rapport with subordinates and inspires others to build rapport with teammates as well. When the team is connected, open communication, trust, and success happen naturally.
2 Results in more productivity
When you understand your own blind spots as a leader, you’ll also be more willing to delegate projects and give and receive feedback, and you’ll nourish a team culture that motivates employees to drive results! Humble leaders aren’t scared to let others take on new tasks. They know that giving their employees the space to learn new skills will only help the team in the long run. When an employee sees new assignments as a learning experience rather than an opportunity to fail, they’ll work harder and reach any set objectives at a faster rate.
3 Encourages innovation
Humble leaders encourage their employees to speak up, respect differences of opinion, and champion the best ideas within their team. It doesn’t matter whether a good idea comes from a senior-level employee or an intern. Humble leaders are willing to harness input from everyone to champion the company’s mission. They recognize potential when they see it and don’t allow their ego to get in the way of strategic decision-making that will benefit everyone.
9 ways to be a humble leader
- Credit other team members
- Admit your mistakes
- Accept feedback
- Offer help to other team members
- Be accountable
- Ask for help when needed
- Listen to others
- Treat your team with respect
- Acknowledge team members’ hard work
1 Credit other team members
Give credit where credit is due! The best leaders acknowledge their contributors. Aim to recognize and respect the efforts and ideas of others. For example, when your subordinate proofreads your proposal and fixes errors, share credit with them. When an employee comes up with an idea that leads to incredible results, give them a shoutout. Formally thank the team member in the organization-wide announcements or submission of a final project to senior management. Never take credit for another team member’s work.
2 Admit your mistakes
You would want your employees to admit if they made a mistake, so why shouldn’t you do the same? Remember, humility and confidence are not mutually exclusive. You can be extremely confident in your skills to execute a high-level project and still admit when a particular task isn’t in your scope of expertise. Admit to your employees when you make an error at work. Then, be a good role model by explaining how you’ll learn from the incident and move forward. Humble leaders are vulnerable and ask for help!
3 Accept feedback
Be open to receiving feedback from your team. Humble leaders recognize their shortcomings and know they’ll need to work with others to overcome limitations. A healthy workplace culture begins when employees feel comfortable sharing feedback openly with one another. Normalize feedback by incorporating opportunities to give and receive it into your team’s day-to-day work. For example, you can encourage each individual to give you one piece of constructive feedback at your next team meeting. Be sincere and create a safe space for others to share their ideas and thoughts in a respectful and sincere manner.
4 Offer help to other team members
Success is best when it’s shared! Humble leaders are willing to use their experience to help others flourish. Support new members of the team in getting acquainted with new technology or lend your expertise in one area to another employee’s project. Demonstrate that you care for your staff by providing them with the tools, resources, and training that will help them thrive in their roles. Ask each direct report about their goals for the future and advocate for them. Use your power for good by empowering others to achieve their own dreams.
5 Be accountable
Remain accountable by taking responsibility for your decisions and actions at work. Start by incorporating workplace accountability into your team culture! Take ownership of your tasks by communicating expectations for yourself with your direct reports. Encourage others to share goals with the group and document them digitally for all to see. Check in with your teammates often. Evaluate your progress as a group and celebrate any milestones and small wins! Provide opportunities for improvement by supporting your team’s professional development.
6 Ask for help when needed
Humble leaders adopt a growth mindset whenever the opportunity presents itself. Don’t pretend like you know it all. When you’re fresh out of ideas or run into a task roadblock, consult your teammates. You’ll quickly learn how your employees’ efforts will complement and feed into your work. When you invite others in, objectives will be achieved more quickly, morale will be boosted, and your workflow will become smoother. Remember that collaboration is key! Your team will be better for it.
7 Listen to others
Practicing active listening skills will help you build stronger relationships, foster trust, and practice effective communication with your subordinates. It can even make you more empathetic. Express interest each time you speak to a colleague by using nonverbal cues and maintaining open body language. Make sure that the person with whom you’re communicating has finished speaking before you chime in to the conversation. Show interest with questions and by paraphrasing what the other party says during each conversation. Don’t be fearful of silence. Humble leaders are comfortable with silence as it often gives time to reflect and respond appropriately.
8 Treat your team with respect
Humble leaders respect their employees’ time, ideas, and feedback. Treat your subordinates how you’d like to be treated. Respond promptly to their requests, show up on time for meetings, and listen to their suggestions. Include all necessary colleagues in meetings, lunches, and after-work activities. Strive to praise more than you criticize. Remain as accessible to your team as possible and never let a high rank change how you act around others. It should go without saying, but always be kind, courteous, and polite.
9 Acknowledge team members’ hard work
When you embrace humility in leadership, it becomes easy to recognize the success of others. Strive to make your team feel valued for their hard work by being an appreciator! Find frequent ways to acknowledge your team’s successes or dedication to specific roles, tasks, and projects. Verbalize your appreciation one-on-one or in a group setting. Make saying thank you a habit. Provide opportunities for your employees to develop skills that will help them achieve their personal and professional goals. Advocate for employees when they’re interested in taking on new work or advancing within your organization. By doing so, you’ll motivate others to follow suit and create a more positive work environment for all!
Humility should never be linked to weakness. Research shows us that humility is closely connected with strength and can lead to superior market performance. It’s simple: when managers focus on employee needs, they generate exceptional levels of job satisfaction, performance, and engagement. A powerful personality isn’t always an indication that an individual will be an effective leader.
In the wise words of Maya Angelou,
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Strive to be quietly confident, focus on others, and be humble in all that you do. That’s where excellent leadership starts.