There is an old axiom that reminds those in leadership positions to be cautious of the toes they step on today, for they may be attached to the feet you will have to kiss tomorrow.
Humility in leadership is not just a good idea, but a necessary trait in those who truly desire the best possible outcome for the teams they lead.
Let us explore five ways leadership can remove ego to spur engagement across the enterprise.
1. Expect to Change Your Opinions
"There are two things that must be rooted out in human beings--arrogant opinion and mistrust. Arrogant opinion expects that there is nothing further needed, and mistrust assumes that under a torrent of circumstances there can be no happiness." - Epictetus
In his book, The Daily Stoic, Ryan Holiday asks the following questions;
"How often do we begin some project certain we know exactly how it will go?
How often do we meet people and think we know exactly who and what they are?
And how often are these assumptions proved to be completely and utterly wrong?"
He answers these questions by reminding us that this is why we must fight our biases and misconceptions: because they are a liability.
The point here is that without humility in your leadership position, you run the risk of alienating ideas that may be the very answer needed to see a project through successfully, appoint the right people to positions where they are needed or to make strides in areas that may be lacking company-wide.
2. Control Your Impulses
Andy Grove, a former CEO of Intel, once famously said, "Only the paranoid survive."
Perhaps. But, we also know that paranoia destroys the paranoid in a much quicker and more spectacular way than any enemy could hope to do.
When a leader is convinced they are being betrayed, they tend to act first to betray others before they can be hurt. If they are afraid they are not well liked, they will work so hard at being liked it tends to have the opposite effect. They become convinced of mismanagement, so they micromanage and then become the source of mismanagement.
When a leader understands that he may not be everyone's cup of tea and adopts a certain humble approach to that fact, good things happen. Those who may not agree with everything will certainly have an interest in finding agreement with someone they feel has the team's best interest at heart.
This is not to suggest in any way that a leader should kowtow to the obvious disruptors in the group in order to keep peace, because that doesn't work either. There is strength in humility when applied properly that no amount of kicking and screaming can ever hope to equal. If you lose your self-control you run the risk of becoming the very source of the disaster you fear.
3. To Lead Is To Serve
Have you ever heard that you can't save the boat by throwing away the oars? Volumes of books could be written about leaders whose arrogant attitudes have literally chased away the very people who were doing most of the work. These managers see themselves as Lords of the Manor to be worshipped by those they consider inferior instead of looking for ways to serve those who have been placed in their charge. The good news is, these types rarely last in their roles, but the damage they do can take a while from which to recover.
Even after they are gone, their teams have been so demoralised or stripped of talent, that getting everyone back on track is a monumental task. A leader with the right amount of humility can usually recognise when the ship is going down and will make adjustments accordingly, even if he's the one that needs adjusting. But one without this quality tends to continue to steamroll through the ever-increasing fallout with no intention of letting up.
While servant leadership is a timeless concept, it was Robert K. Greenleaf that actually coined the phrase in a 1970 essay titled "The Servant as Leader." After spending years working for AT&T, he had grown weary of the status quo authoritarian leadership style of his day and left to set up his own firm where he was free to implement his own brand of successful leadership.
4. You Must Get Low to Get High
An executive job seeker came home from an interview several years ago and shared his experience.
As he pulled into the lot for the interview, an older woman in slacks and a cotton shirt was busily sweeping debris into a plastic trash can. She hardly looked up as the executive passed her on his way to the interview office. Of course, the executive offered a "good morning" as he walked past, which is his nature. (If he thinks he's within earshot of anyone, he tries to make sure to acknowledge them).
Anyway, he met with the manager, and they hit it off; the executive was offered the job. But first, the manager wanted to introduce him to the owner. Together, they walked outside and found the old woman still busily sweeping up.
As you may have guessed by now, it was the owner of the company that the executive had passed earlier on his way to the interview. He wound up spending more than five years with this company, and that owner never ceased to do whatever needed to be done, regardless of how menial it may have seemed.
Because of the owner's attitude, though, no one at that company ever felt they were too good to do those things, either. The owner of this company had created an environment where humility was the key in their approach to the entire business, and it permeated everything from helping their customers to how the staff dealt with one another.
5. Humble, but Not Passive
Some may confuse humility with being a pushover. That couldn't be further from the truth.
Humility simply means that one is able to create peace and unity with others. It also means that we should not think so much of ourselves that we cannot accept correction or that our own opinions and thoughts are always better than those we lead.
It does not mean that we bow down to those under our tutelage just in the name of peace, because that wouldn't work for very long either. A passive leader will not be able to command the authority they have been given any better than the brash loudmouth will. Having a humble mindset gives us the ability to use our talents and capabilities soberly.
Adopting a humble leadership mindset also means we can expect grace from our crew when we do make a mistake, unlike the scenario of the boss who is constantly boasting of their abilities and accomplishments and whose team is just itching to see them blow it.
Throughout history, it has been leaders who have shown the greatest humility that have seen the most success in their chosen endeavours. Whether they be leaders of nations, captains of industry or heads of academia.
Before accepting that next promotion or before the next staff meeting you lead, consider the important role that a humble mindset should play in these. You may find your words falling on much more accepting ears.
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