You want to make obvious that you have what it takes to be an effective leader and have people follow your direction in the 21st century? The answer is very simple: Be humble! Kiss pride and bid it goodbye. Without humility, you can never become successful today. But the truth is: Humility is one of the rare virtues in this day and time. Leaders who want to inspire followership, and I use the word “inspire” deliberately, need to demonstrate not simply their accomplishments but their character. Take pride in what you have done, but use it as a platform to bring people together to do greater things, e.g. increase sales, improve quality, transform the continent of Africa… Use your leadership for something other than self-aggrandizement. The bane of our country is this: People are in leadership for personal aggrandizement, not to serve the people who are within their sphere of influence.
The sense of humility is essential to leadership because it authenticates a person’s humanity. We humans are frail creatures; we have our faults. Recognizing what we do well, as well as what we do not do so well—is vital to self-awareness and paramount to humility.
Today, I am going to teach you how you can begin to demonstrate humility in leadership.
To begin with, power comes with rank but you do not have to pull it to make it work for you. You can encourage others to make decisions by delegating authority and responsibility. Encourage your people to write their own performance objectives and set team goals. Allow them to make decisions. Your authority comes in the form of imposing order and discipline.
Also, to become humble in leadership, you’d need to start promoting others above yourself. Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman note in their shaping text—that a characteristic of successful leaders is their ability to promote others, sometimes to positions higher than their own. Such leaders are talent groomers; they are those upon whose leadership success of the enterprise rests.
To become humble in leadership, you shall need to learn how to acknowledge what others do within your sphere of influence. Few have said it better than Paul “Bear” Bryant. “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That is all it takes to get people to win football games for you.” Practice that attitude always, especially when things are not going well, and your team will rally together because they want you to succeed. In short, humility breeds humility.
Can you be too humble in the workplace? Yes. If you fail to put yourself, or more importantly your ideas, forward, you will be overlooked. Chances for promotion will evaporate, but worse you will not give anyone a reason to believe in you. All of us need not lead others, but those who do seek to influence, to change, to guide, and to lead their organizations, need to find ways to get noticed. Again humility comes to the rescue. That is, if you celebrate team first, self second, people will notice what you and your team have achieved.
And once more, let me return to a passage from Ernie Pyle who was killed in action in the Pacific months before in anticipation of victory. “We won this war because our men are brave and because of many things — because of Russia, England and China and the passage of time and the gift of nature’s material. We did not win it because destiny created us better than all other peoples.” In today’s corporate world, we might say we have a diverse team with ample resources and we are thankful for the opportunity to compete. But I prefer Pyle’s closing admonishment: “I hope that we are more grateful than we are proud.” If you want to become successful in leadership today, run from pride as far as your legs can carry you.
Some narcissistic business leaders are treated like rock stars, but leaders who are humble and admit mistakes outshine them all. In the cause of my moving around, interacting with leaders, one thing I have found out is that on this continent, leaders hardly admit mistakes. Most leaders in Nigeria carry themselves as if they are infallible. They wrongly believe that when a leader admits mistakes his followers would stop seeing him as their leader. This is one of the reasons why we are where we are today.
As I begin to coast home today, I want you to understand that humble leaders seek input from others to ensure they have all the facts and are making decisions that are in the best interest of the team. No one person has all the answers. If you think you do, then it is probably time to re-evaluate yourself. Remember, people want to work for people who value their opinions rather than ignore or dismiss them. Humble leaders are comfortable asking for input and can just as easily be decisive when the situation calls for it. It is tough to be more transparent and open—even those who consider themselves humble do not want to look like they have messed up. But, as human beings, we all make mistakes. When you are willing to share your own missteps, and how you dealt with and recovered from them, you earn trust from your team.
Many leaders want to control everything. But some things cannot be known up front or beforehand. You have to know when to take charge—or when to let go and not try to force everything to go your way. Sometimes, it is important to admit that you do not know the best answer, and wait until you have the best information to make a decision or change. Lastly, the present world is in a dire need of humble leaders. And you shall need to become one. See you where great leaders are found!