An Overview of Humility and Ambition in Leadership
What Is Humble Leadership?
Humility in leadership means understanding yourself, your relationship with others, and your place in the universe. As a leader, there are a few behaviors you can start practicing to display more humbitiousness:
- Trust in your own greatness (magnanimity) without losing sight that you owe that greatness to supportive people, positive forces, and favorable events (humility).
- Have the confidence to set an audacious vision coupled with the humility to know your vulnerabilities and surround yourself with people who will challenge you.
- Work on being humble, hungry, and smart at the same time.
- If you have narcissistic tendencies, develop ways to inject some humility into your leadership style. If you are too humble, find ways to develop some healthy self-confidence and strong ambition.
The Benefits of Humble Leadership
There’s no doubt that humble leadership benefits individuals, teams, and organizations; we’ve seen the impact of humility on how individuals and teams behave, and the organizational outcomes that result. Here are a few actions the research suggests you should take:
- Set up your team to confront challenges with humility and confidence.
- Combine selflessness with fierce determination.
- Model humility by admitting mistakes and shortcomings.
- Create psychological safety so that people don’t worry about threats and feel comfortable developing deep connections with each other.
- Improve engagement by empowering employees to grow and experiment.
Determinants and Moderators of Humble Leadership
We have seen that there are various factors that may predispose a leader to become more humble: childhood experiences, religiousness or morality, role models, and significant life events. And we are faced with the fact that, in some situations, humility can be less effective or even counterproductive, such as in crisis situations with immediate threats or organizational cultures that emphasize authority and rivalry. Given this, here are some action items for your own development:
- Adopt a growth mindset and believe that your qualities can be cultivated through effort.
- Seek mentors who challenge you and genuinely care for you.
- Recognize situations and cultures where humbitiousness may not be the right approach and adjust accordingly.
- Surround yourself with leaders who have different strengths that can complement your weaknesses.
Humble Leadership in Relation to the Self
Seeking feedback from others is vital to building your external self-awareness and understanding how others perceive you. Some practices for you to consider are:
- Ask for a 360-degree feedback survey and work with a coach or trusted colleague to uncover your blind spots and understand the results.
- Identify loving critics and ask them for specific feedback on your past behaviors.
- Seek feedforward on how to change specific behaviors in the future.
- When you receive input, listen to understand, do not become defensive, and thank the other person.
- Develop a plan of action based on what you hear and periodically share it with the people who gave you the input.
To sum it up: being humble means being aware of your shortcomings as well as your strengths, and you can’t be aware without taking time to look at yourself and reflect on your life and actions—and to learn from others. Here is a shortlist of action items for this:
- Work with a coach to better understand your personality traits and emotional intelligence strengths and weaknesses.
- Deliberately reflect on your values, beliefs, and world views.
- Seek solitude by blocking off reasonable blocks of alone time. Schedule time, then commit to keeping it.
- Consider journaling periodically and asking yourself “what” types of questions.
- Start small. If thirty minutes of reflection seems like too much, start with five minutes and increase it as you go.
- Plan daily or weekly walks for thinking and reflection
- Adopt a regular reading habit. As you are reading, highlight important passages, write them down, and reflect on them later on.
- Reflect on your successes and the role that luck, external forces, and your team members have played in allowing you to achieve those successes.
To sum it up, fallibility, vulnerability, and transparency are vital for you as a humbitious leader. To start working on these qualities, consider the following behaviors:
- Avoid seeking perfection, and remember that you are human.
- Work on bringing your whole self to work without over-sharing.
- Apologize and take ownership for your mistakes.
- Build your credibility and status first, and then, when appropriate, share your weaknesses and insecurities.
- Admit to not knowing what the right answer is, but then use your competence and team to develop a plan to find out.
Humble Leadership in Relation to Others
To sum it up, intellectual humility and open-mindedness are the starting points for humility in relation to others. As a humbitious leader, here are a few behaviors you should keep in mind:
- Encourage intellectual humility on your team by rewarding people who are brave enough to change their minds when new evidence appears.
- Train yourself to be open-minded to others’ ideas and beliefs, while still having strong ideas and beliefs for yourself.
- Practice curiosity by being genuinely interested in people and conversations.
- Ask good questions that are sincere attempts to understand the other person and their point of view.
- Listen to understand in an active and empathetic way. Refrain from giving advice except after you have listened and if the other person specifically asks for it.
- Take notes during meetings when others are talking. Jump in the trenches every now and then to re-learn about your area or organization and gain new perspectives.
- Encourage and reward team members to dissent to your ideas. Model learning and growth to others by making self-development legitimate.
Gratitude, appreciation, and recognition have clear personal, relational, and organizational benefits. As a humbitious leader, make it a habit to practice the following behaviors:
- Catch people in the act of doing something good.
- Give handwritten thank-you notes that are genuine, specific, and timely.
- Proactively appreciate others for who they are and for the value they bring.
- Recognize positive efforts and behaviors formally and informally.
- Check in with your team members periodically and with presence.
- Round on your direct reports and front-line employees with the purpose of uncovering wins and positive behaviors. Switch your expressions of thanks from self-benefit to praising others.
Generosity and giving are the last building blocks of humbitious leadership in relation to others. To practice these traits, here are some tips:
- Invest your time and energy into growing and developing others for their benefit and the benefit of the organization.
- Practice feeling what others are feeling, and thinking what they are thinking, so you can act in generous ways that help and support them.
- Share your knowledge and experience in mentoring relationships.
- Protect your time by being intentional on when and how much you give.
- Model generosity to develop a network of givers that spread it across the organization.
- Ask for permission first, and then offer your help.
Humble Leadership in Relation to the Universe
Understanding your place in relation to the universe at large is the culmination of your journey towards humbitious leadership. To achieve transcendence, consider developing the following habits:
- Meditate on the vastness of the universe, nature, God, and history.
- Make it a weekly habit to reflect on your own death and on dying.
- Differentiate between what is under your control and what is not.
- Practice mindfulness meditation, in which you reflect on compassion and kindness towards yourself and others.
- Surround yourself with people who will keep you grounded no matter how successful you become.