Humility in leadership has been a popular topic lately. Headlines like The Value of Humility in Leadership and Humility and Leadership—A Perfect Combination have been appearing in respected magazines. What do we mean by humble leadership? We describe it as more than being soft-spoken, fair-minded and modest. We also see these leaders as precise, methodical and consistent. They model follow-through and diligence. On the DiSC scale they are SC or CS styles.
The humble dimension of leadership
Leaders tend to use one of eight dimensions of leadership primarily. Humble leaders are fair-minded and practical, often able to discern what systems and structures would meet other people’s needs.
They can be overly cautious because they value stable environments. They’re naturally wary of change and innovation can cause them stress. They are also more comfortable out of the spotlight.
You’re likely to notice these leaders giving others credit or acknowledging their own mistakes. They are better able to maintain their composure and keep their personal egos in check than leaders strong in the other dimensions.
What we can learn from humble leaders
People need leaders to stay calm under fire
The last thing you need to see during challenging times is to witness your leader freaking out. It’s hard to have faith in someone who is letting their emotions control them. Humble leaders know how to keep things in perspective–to take time to breath and make thoughtful decisions. They can take a step back from a problem to look at the bigger picture, to look back and around for a better perspective, and to see things from another’s viewpoint. They give themselves the space to make better decisions based on more than an emotional reaction.
Some leaders filter their feelings through a trusted colleague, by getting fresh air or exercise, through meditation, or journaling. They acknowledge their fears and check them against reality. They recruit help when and where appropriate. They are uncomfortable with conflict so may have difficulty showing strength when their decisions are unpopular.
“The x-factor of great leadership is not personality, it’s humility.”
— Jim Collins
- How to Lead Under Pressure and Remain Calm, Lolly Daskal
- A Neglected But Essential Leadership Trait — Why Self-Control Really Matters, Forbes
- How High-Profile Professionals Stay Calm Under Pressure, Hubspot blogs
- 7 Ways Leaders Maintain Their Composure in Difficult Times, Forbes
- How to Not Take Things So Personally, Coaching for Leaders
You need other people more than you think
Is your communication only one-directional? Humble leaders know that they must listen to those around them, even those in much lower-level positions. Great leaders take the time to elicit communication from others. They empower others by showing that they and their opinions are valued. Plus they learn valuable information that wouldn’t surface otherwise. They aren’t the last to know that trouble is brewing somewhere in the organization.
“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 them selves.”
— Jim Collins, Good to Great
- The Path Towards Trusting Relationships, with Edgar Schein and Peter Schein, Coaching for Leaders podcast
- Great Leaders Empower Others. Choose to be Great. The Mission Podcast
- Three Ways Leaders Can Listen with More Empathy, Harvard Business Review
- TED Talk: “5 Ways to Listen Better,” Julian Treasure
Other people have needs that differ from your own
One of the major lessons from DiSC is that the golden rule doesn’t always work because we aren’t all wired the same. What motivates me, my fears and my priorities are likely not the same as yours. Humble leaders don’t try to drag their followers along on their ride. They know that to get the best from their people they need to pay attention to everyone’s needs. They check on the emotional pulse of the people they lead. They concern themselves with employee engagement levels.
When using the humble dimension of leadership, leaders strive to appreciate different styles and perspectives. They work hard to balance the needs of the people under them. They plan their communications to cover the concerns of others. They know that when people seem to be agreeing, they might still have reservations that need to be addressed.
Leadership is a process that emerges from a relationship between leaders and followers who are bound together by their understanding that they are members of the same social group.
— Kim Peters and Alex Haslam in Research: To Be a Good Leader, Start By Being a Good Follower
- How Humble Leadership Really Works, Harvard Business Review
- 5 leadership strategies that cultivate cognitive diversity, SmartBrief
- What Every Leader Needs to Know About Followers, Harvard Business Review
- 13 Habits Of Humble People, Forbes
The pitfalls of humble-only leadership
The desire to be seen as reliable and have everything “just so” can hinder a leader in times of rapid change or during a major disruption that needs immediate attention. The humble leader has to expend extra effort to take risks; it’s more natural for them to try to avoid trouble. They sometimes respect rules and traditions so much that they expand them to cover areas that weren’t initially intended. Humble leaders need to learn how to stretch their boundaries and be more adventurous in looking for new opportunities.
While gaining input from others and focusing on the needs of the team are important, it’s also important for a leader to show passion and confidence. Humble leaders tend towards emotional restraint and can have a hard time rallying people through their own energy and enthusiasm. Their low need for ego gratification and a desire to be inconspicuous can hide their leadership skills from those looking for more charisma and self-promotion.
Discover your own preferred leadership dimension
The 8 Dimensions of Leadership Map is a quick assessment to give you an idea of your own style.
Different business situations often require different styles of leadership. Mentors, coaches and self-reflection can help any type of leader stretch into each of the leadership behaviors needed by every effective leader.
Here’s an overview of lessons you can learn from each of the eight dimensions of leadership. These lessons and insights are drawn from The 8 Dimensions of Leaders: DiSC® Strategies for Becoming a Better Leader.
By Kristeen Bullwinkle
Originally published on TalentGear.com.