I’ve been praising the character trait of humility, particularly when it comes to leadership. (You can read my posts here.)

This topic comes up often in my coaching practice: how to be humble, without appearing meek, weak, or indecisive. We talk about the difference between being courteous, kind, and friendly and expressing humility. It’s an important discussion; humility is a defining character of Level 5 leaders, according to research of successful companies by author Jim Collins in his classic book Good to Great.

So if you, or someone you work with, could benefit from developing your leadership humility, here are some suggestions from authors John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin in “Six Principles for Developing Humility as a Leader,” published in Harvard Business Review, September 2013:

  1. Know what you don’t know.
    Resist “master of the universe” impulses. You may yourself excel in an area, but as a leader you are, by definition, a generalist. Rely on those who have relevant qualifications and expertise. Know when to defer and delegate.
  2. Resist falling for your own publicity.
    We all do it: whether we’re writing a press release or a self-appraisal, we put the best spin on our success — and then conveniently forget that the reality wasn’t as flawless.
  3. Never underestimate the competition.
    You may be brilliant, ambitious, and audacious. But the world is filled with other hard-working, high-IQ, creative professionals.
  4. Embrace and promote a spirit of service.
    Employees quickly figure out which leaders are dedicated to helping them succeed and which are scrambling for personal success at their expense.
  5. Listen, even (no, especially) to the weird ideas.
    Only when you are not convinced that your idea is better than someone else’s do you really open your mind. And there is ample evidence that you should: the most imaginative and valuable ideas tend to come from left field.
  6. Be passionately curious.
    Constantly welcome and seek out new knowledge, and insist on curiosity from those around you. Take it from Einstein. “I have no special talent,” he claimed. “I am only passionately curious.”

Whether you plan to climb the leadership ladder or not, your career success depends to a degree on your personal growth and development. Resolve to work on your own humility and you will begin to notice and appreciate its effect all around you. A willingness to speak of your failures and career challenges will convince others that your self-confidence and wisdom are tempered with humility.

What do you think about humility for leaders? Are there other ways you express leadership humility? I’d love to hear from you. You can call me at 561-582-6060; let’s talk. And as always, I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.

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