Why humility is a key leadership trait

Mairi Doyle

Leaders often believe they have to have all the answers.  They feel they must live up to the expectation of being the smartest person in the room! And yet humility is widely regarded as an essential leadership characteristic and fundamental to culture change. 

Not the smartest person in the room

Humility is about accepting that you don’t have all the answers, that you, like everyone else, are on a growth journey with much to learn... It’s also admitting when you’ve made mistakes, sharing your learnings, and what you’re doing differently as a result. 

Here are some practical ways to demonstrate humility:

•    Distinguish between opinion and fact – and if you’re just giving your opinion, be explicit that you don’t know the answer and you want other people’s contributions. This creates the space for others to feel comfortable sharing their views. 
•    Leaders speak last – avoid jumping in, even when you believe you do have the best answer. Instead invite contributions from others and consider how their ideas can build or challenge your initial thoughts.
•    Acknowledge your mistakes – admit when you’ve got it wrong, and what you learnt. In doing so, you create a deeper connection and are role modelling a growth mindset that is critical for culture change. 
•    Regularly ask for feedback –encourage a rhythm of feedback where you get into the habit of asking people ‘what am I doing well, what could be even better …’ 

Inclusion and innovation 

Inclusion and innovation are two of the biggest challenges facing organisations, and they are interlinked. By actively seeking input from the widest range of people, you will increase your chances of generating new and better ideas and solutions. When you demonstrate humility, you role model and create the conditions for these contributions to flow, which will boost engagement, increase productivity, and improve performance. 

While often perceived to be in short supply and rarely understood, humility is critical to culture change, and therefore strategic success. 

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