Being Humble

“The X-factor of great leadership is not personality, It’s Humility.”  - Jim Collins

 

When it comes to bosses who have touched and moved me, the one quality that each of them had in common was their humility.  And, it was their down to earth attitude that made them endearing and true role models. They earned a special place as they moved from merely informing to inspiring me. Their influence has remained impactful as they nurtured trust and built a climate of positivity. In fact, they ceased to be bosses and instead were mentors and leaders. They were friends, philosophers, and guides who brought out the best in me, and helped me contribute significantly towards organisational excellence. They never flaunted status symbols and were respected for a lot more than their formal authority. They made me feel valued and connected with my intrinsic self. With humility at their core, they continued to be important beyond reporting relationships, jobs, and organisations. Reflecting on these thought-lines, I realised that both people and organisations need humble leaders. Humble leaders are strikingly different in the way they think, act, and engage. And, their humility brings in a greater pie by scripting many a success formula.

 

Setting the vision

 

Humble leaders possess the remarkable ability to sculpt strategic and integrative perspective plans. They rise from being myopic to being agile and adaptive in execution.  They fathom past trends and shifts in the environment with openness and a systemic view. They find it easy to respond to challenges and leverage opportunities by looking at a range of possibilities. Contrary to the views of sceptics, they are more effective in scripting visions of accelerated performance and are exemplary at envisioning competitive goals and strategies.  Being exponents of flexibility and agility, they adeptly align the market, people, process, and technology levers with strategy.

 

Spinning winning cultures

 

Leaders who make a mark are those who inspire teams to realise a compelling vision. They bear no conceitedness and set right performance expectations. They enable their teams to value their efforts and outcomes and make talent accountable to set, stretch, and strive to win. They engage in crucial conversations with ease. Since, it is not about my way or the highway for them, they encourage voice and debates among their members. Their humility acts as the secret sauce to help multiply value. They do not merely focus on short term business transactions, and instead focus on workforce development which lays the foundation of winning cultures.

 

Triggering curiosity

 

Humble leaders are not intellectually complacent. They own the humility to acknowledge and claim, “I don’t know and I want to learn.”  They have a high learning orientation and seize every opportunity to learn and grow. They are childlike in their mental makeup and draw meaning from experiences that are novel and challenging. We often find them pursuing hobbies with passion and learning new skills which may not be directly linked to their work. Learning from both formal and informal formats comes easy to them. They are open to feedback, and learn from internal and external customers alike. They have a natural appetite to explore without being judgemental, and are never obsessed with past successes and glories. Even during instances where they falter, they learn from their mistakes. They have an excellent risk appetite and a high creative quotient. Humble leaders flourish due to their willingness to expand mental horizons, ideate, and experiment.

 

Deepening empathy

 

For humble leaders, it is always both the head and the heart. They are very human, never display self-grandiosity, are not tempted, and do not thirst to grab credit. They are a contrast to narcissist leaders who are so full of themselves. Narcissists can even be aggressive, abrasive, and prone to displaying incivility and bullying behaviour. The communication style of humble leaders is authentic and empathetic.  It is not about popularity gimmicks and emotional gullibility. They derive joy in being genuinely nice and do not operate from a zone of insecurity. They have a natural facilitative style of leadership where they coach and mentor their teams. As has been rightly said by Robert Burton, “Compassion, empathy, and humility can only arise out of recognizing that our common desires are differently expressed”,  humble leaders have the unique ability to recognise and appreciate differences. 

 

Building collaborations

 

Humility makes leaders break silos wherever they go. They champion collaboration and cohesion. They forge connections and augment transparency and fairness in the system. They nurture team spirit and camaraderie to take on crises and urgencies with passion. Meaningful alliances and networks get easily built, creating a healthy workplace and enabling seamless workflow. They dial inclusivity and leverage diversity in the workforce. They devise engagement strategies across generations, gender, functions, and groups.

 

“Humility makes leaders break silos wherever they go. They champion collaboration and cohesion. They forge connections and augment transparency and fairness in the system. They nurture team spirit and camaraderie to take on crises and urgencies with passion.”

 

Fostering integrity

 

Humble leaders have a strong moral compass. They realise the pitfalls of bragging and flashing wins, and do not have facades or hide under fancy words and gestures to impress. They stand tall as they walk the talk, and earn respect by demonstrating high standards of integrity and credibility. Their actions always speak louder than words. In fact, they serve as excellent brand ambassadors for their organisations. They live values and breathe life into organisations. It is believed that people do not leave organisations, but bosses. Similarly, they stay in organisations because of true spirit and righteous actions of humble leaders.

 

For leaders to cultivate humility and practice it as a habit, they should start early and go about it with due diligence. It is about the self-awareness that one is neither perfect nor always right. In the words of C. S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking about yourself less.” It means sublimating the ego and even acknowledging interests of others as being important. It needs the courage and modesty to put ‘We’ before ‘I’. Leaders must be aware of their intellectual limitations, and not fall into trappings of arrogance and deceit. The discipline of listening, reflecting, and being mindful can help them in being humble. It manifests in the way we treat and interact with others. A humble versus an arrogant pitch is marked by the right choice of words, body language, and gestures. Appreciation of the nuances of the socio-cultural context augments social intelligence, and enhances the humility quotient of leaders. In essence, a simple recipe for enhancing the humility of leaders lies in their being honest with self and in being in harmony with others.

 

“Leaders must be aware of their intellectual limitations, and not fall into trappings of arrogance and deceit. The discipline of listening, reflecting, and being mindful can help them in being humble.”

Dr. Swatee Sarangi is Head- Capability Development, Corporate HR, Larsen and Toubro Ltd. She wields an experience of more than twenty years in talent modelling, strategic visioning, learning, people and leadership development and work practice innovations. Swatee is a Ph. D in Talent Management and an academic Gold medallist.

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