Humble leaders (and Everything DiSC)

Humble leaders (and Everything DiSC)

Updated August 2021

“The x-factor of great leadership is not personality, it’s humility.”

— Jim Collins

The humble leadership style is the focus of this month’s continuing examination of the 8 dimensions of leadership. We hope this listing of additional readings can extend your training and conversations through assignments, book groups, or lunch discussions about leadership. No matter what our own style of leadership, we all have something to learn from the styles that come more easily to others.

Humble leadersWhat is a humble leader?

Humble leaders tend to be a bit on the cautious side, self-controlled, and soft-spoken. They are fair-minded, practical, and often able to discern what systems and structures would meet other people’s needs.

If you’re a humble leader, you might be motivated by a desire to be reliable and to avoid trouble. These two traits might make you prone to inaction since you don’t want to make mistakes that will affect others. You have a low level of self-serving ambition and the ability to keep things in perspective.

Strengths of the humble leader:

  • They’re often able to head off potential problems with careful planning.
  • They provide others with the tools necessary to do their work.
  • They’re able to create a stable environment.
  • They maintain their composure, even under stress.
  • They’re conscientious about reaching closure on projects and initiatives.
  • The model a steady work ethic.
  • They expect themselves and others to deliver accurate outcomes.

Goals: Stability, reliable outcomes, calm environment

Would increase effectiveness through: Being decisive, showing urgency, initiating change, speaking up

–Source: The 8 Dimensions of Leadership

What can we learn from humble leaders?

cartCurious about your own style? Take this quick leadership assessment.

What business leaders and researchers say about the humble leadership style

“Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless.”
Good to Great, Jim Collins

“Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition if first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.”
Good to Great, Jim Collins

“Leaders are simply great learners. They have, to begin with, a great sense of humility about their own sense of skills and abilities, and many leaders, despite what may objectively be ‘extraordinary’ achievements are loath to attribute them to some extraordinary competency on their part.”
The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner

“There is ample research that indicates that people obey laws and other rules not because they fear the consequences of disobedience, but more because they see that the laws and rules are just and legitimate and that they pertain to everyone, including themselves. A necessary condition for this acceptance seems to be that the follower must believe himself to be a valued member of the group, that is to say, one who is treated with dignity and respect (by leaders).”
The Psychology of Leadership: New Perspectives and Research, David Messick

“Leaders also establish trust by giving credit where credit is due. They never score off their own people by stealing an idea and claiming it as their own. They don’t kiss up and kick down because they are self-confident and mature enough to know that their team’s success will get them recognition, and sooner rather than later. In bad times, leaders take responsibility for what’s gone wrong. In good times, they generously pass around the praise.”
Winning, Jack Welch

“People are very cognizant of how they are treated compared to others inside or outside their group. If you tend to treat one group more or less favorably, even if it is unintentional, it can harm your reputation and your ability to work with them. It is important that you monitor how you treat various groups, and make a conscious effort to be consistent in your behavior.”
Successful Executive’s Handbook, Susan Gebelein, et al.

“Be willing to laugh at yourself. Don’t flaunt your authority. Humility will make you approachable. It opens the door to building relationships.”
The Handbook for Leaders, Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman

“Hiding mistakes only makes their outcome worse. Share your pain, and the problem can begin to be solved. Be sure to inform those who will be affected by the mistake!”
The Handbook for Leaders, Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman

“The more you contain your ego, the more realistic you are about your problems. You learn how to listen and admit that you don’t know all the answers. You exhibit the attitude that you can learn from anyone at any time. Your pride doesn’t get in the way of gathering the information you need to achieve the best results. It doesn’t keep you from sharing the credit that needs to be shared.”
Execution: The discipline of getting things done, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

Additional readings

How Leaders Can Learn To Be Humble – And More Effective, Forbes
“Leaders who lack humility focus on dominating other people and create toxic environments, while leaders who have humility focus on working together to create a better product.”

Hail to the ‘Humble’ Manager, SHRM
“Can a manager blend the traditional traits of a confident boss with humble traits that appeal to today’s workforce? Yes—and the answer often lies in doing the work alongside your team members.”

7 reasons humility is a highly desired leadership trait, Fast Company
Humble leaders are increasingly sought after because they don’t abuse their authority, they constantly look to promote others, they model and support collaboration, they model integrity and trust, they’re supportive of their staff, they’re able to admit their mistakes and shortcomings, and they’re first to take responsibility and last to take credit.

Why Humble Leaders Are Rare, Forbes
“Scientific research shows that humble leaders are more likely to create healthier and more effective organizational cultures, to develop employees’ potential, as well as coach and mentor them, and boost team morale, job satisfaction, and performance.” So why do we overlook them? “There are five critical pitfalls to explain why we rarely end up with humble leaders: We mistake confidence for competence, we are blinded by charisma, we are too lazy to evaluate talent, we equate arrogance to strength, and we perceive humility as a feminine attribute.”

The Secret Power of Humility, Marilyn Gist, author of The Extraordinary Power of Leader Humility
“Leaders with humility are aware of their strengths and accomplishments, but they focus more on the goals of the team and the contributions of others. When they operate from this point of balance, they manage their own ego rather than having it manage them. This is critically important for pulling people together.”

The Legacy that Humble Leaders Leave Behind, Topic Insights
“The ability to serve others and have genuinely good intentions are becoming the new norm for the workplace – and even beyond the workplace. The way we interact with others and develop relationships has become something we are more and more selective towards. The tolerance for arrogance and selfishness has narrowed, and it seems to be disappearing as time goes by.”

“Executive Presence” for Introverts, Susan Cain
Recommended in this post’s comments by reader Mata Faye.

What is Servant Leadership and How to Apply It, National Society of Leadership and Success
“It should come as no surprise that servant leadership has become one of the most popular leadership styles in the modern workplace. While this movement has been gaining steam since Greenleaf first published it, the popularity has taken off in recent years because people are looking for more from their employers.”

Leaders are more powerful when they’re humble, new research shows, Washington Post
“In Journal of Management study of 105 computer software and hardware firms, humble CEOs were found to have reduced pay disparity between themselves and their staff. They dispersed their power. They hired more diverse management teams, and they give staff the ability to lead and innovate. Humble leaders have less employee turnover, higher employee satisfaction, and they improve the company’s overall performance.”

The Best Leaders Are Humble Leaders, Harvard Business Review
“To promote inclusion and reap its rewards, leaders should embrace a selfless leadership style. Here are some concrete ways to get started based on both our current research and our ongoing study of leadership development practices at one company, Rockwell Automation: …”

Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve, Harvard Business Review
“In retirement, Smith reflected on his exceptional performance, saying simply, ‘I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job.’”

Do you have any additional readings to add to this list?


by Kristeen Bullwinkle and the team
Updated August 2021



1 Comment

  1. Author
    Mata Faye 4 years ago

    I found this article to be personally helpful: “Executive Presence” for Introverts
    It can be hard for humble leaders to make themselve heard, I think.

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