It doesn’t seem to make much sense, but truly great leaders are humble.
The problem comes with how the word is normally used: Humble is thought to mean shy, retiring, unobtrusive, quiet, unassuming. Being humble can seem weak or, horrors, even borrrrrrrriiiiiiinnnnngggggg.
What does it really mean to embrace humility?
Humility is derived from the Latin word humus, meaning “ground.” One way to describe truly humble leaders is that they have their feet on the ground.
Imagine for a moment a farmer in his field, sitting tall on his tractor, a wake of freshly turned earth foaming off the blade of his plow. He is sunburned. His arms are as sturdy as fence posts. He’s a man of the humus—the earth. You could call him humble. Does this image suggest a lack of competence or strength? Do you sense it would be easy to take advantage of him? No, this image is one of strength and resilience. Think velvet-covered steel.
Humility is the first pillar of a leader whom others will trust.
A humble person sticks to the basics and is not prone to exaggeration. How much better off would we be today if the leaders of some of our fallen corporate behemoths had kept their heads out of the ozone and their feet on the ground?
Perhaps the most significant quality of humble leaders is their steady, clear-eyed perception of truth. A proud leader is prone to spreading and believing exaggerations—from little white lies to whopping falsehoods. Which high-powered modern leaders, intent on vanquishing foes and surmounting tall challenges, ever want to be known as humble? Not many—until, of course, they find out that humility is a critical first step on the path that leads to leadership success.
How have you defined humility in the past? Has an incorrect definition caused you to avoid humility in your leadership style?