Humility is highly underrated. It's also misunderstood and misconstrued. Often humility is perceived as being weak or self deprecating. But that's not true. You can be humble and confident. This idea intrigued me. I've read some of the best leaders are the ones who embrace humility. So that got me thinking, what exactly is humility?
Let's ask the book of definitions. According to Merriam Webster's dictionary, humility is defined as
"freedom from pride or arrogance."
Cambridge dictionary defines humility as
"the feeling or attitude that you have no special importance that makes you better than others, lack of pride."
What about the definition of humility given by American Psychological Association (APA)?
"a low focus on the self, an accurate (not over- or underestimated) sense of one’s accomplishments and worth, and an acknowledgment of one’s limitations, imperfections, mistakes, gaps in knowledge, and so on."
Three different sources that offer 3 different definitions. There's another quote that comes to mind as well
"true humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less" - CS Lewis
All these definitions seem to point us in different directions. Being the curious gal that I am, these seemingly contradicting definitions intrigued me more. I was particularly fascinated by the connection between effective leadership and humility. And specifically why effective leaders are humble. Here's what I learned (and am still learning).
What is one of the biggest traits needed to be an effective leader? Constant learning. This requires recognizing that you don't know everything. If we look at APA's definition of humility, it runs in the same lane as learning. You can't learn new things if you aren't open to it. Is it possible to learn something new if you believe you know everything? No. And that's because learning goes hand in hand with humility. Otherwise there would be no room for learning new things. Humility forces us to acknowledge what we don't know and the areas that we can grow in. It's good to remember every expert was once a beginner.
An effective leader is authentic. They're aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They know they're not the smartest person in the room. And they're accountable for their actions. Humble people don't think less of themselves. Instead they accept their weaknesses and embrace shortcomings. They see how their weaknesses are someone else's strengths. Truly humble leaders see the value that others bring to the table. They seek to empower people, and want to elevate others instead of themselves. By recognizing their limitations they open up opportunities to work with other people.
Humble leaders love teamwork. Collaboration is an invitation for innovation. When you have a group working on something, 99% of the time the final outcome is always better. When people work together towards a common goal, productivity and work performance is boosted. A diversity of ideas are brought to the table. Best of all, working in a team involves feedback and active communication. Effective leaders seek out ways to improve for the betterment of their team. When you're a leader, you're the captain of your ship. Lead your crew and they will follow you. Lead them well and they will trust you.
Thinking less of yourself puts you in a position where you can better care for your team. An effective leader is someone who is invested in the growth and success of their team members. They don't want the glory for themselves, rather they want to see their team succeed. Instead of selfish, they are selfless. If you're a selfless leader, your team will stick with you. Because they trust you. They believe in your mission. They know you won't turn your back on them when they need you most. That's what effective leaders do; they look out for their team. And when you've got their back, they've got yours too. A wise person once told me "treat your troops well and they will treat you well."
Listen and Pay Attention
Humble leaders are curious and caring creatures. They ask intentional questions, listen intently, and embrace the present moment. It's in our human nature to want a sense of safety and belonging. People want to be understood and feel like they're being heard. When someone pays attention to you, it shows they care. Humble leaders know how to listen. They also know what they don't know. Because of this, they're eager to listen to others and hear different ideas. It circles back to an effective leader's ability to admit weakness and embrace teamwork. In doing so, team members feels valued in their work. And the team is stronger.