… but it may be a real good idea for you as a leader.
Recent research provides support for an idea many of us cherish: Humble leaders are often more effective.
Uriah Heep, the fictional character shown above, was an early model of the vain and very unhumble worker. Untrusting and untrustworthy, he felt that he was better than his co-workers and his boss.
I was very well-liked by most of the people who suffered … I mean, worked under my supervision while I was a fledging leader. The fact that I was personally popular did not help me to become a more effective leader, other than buying me some time to learn about humility and the other aspects of servant leadership. If I had been unpopular, I would not have been tolerated for long enough to learn much of anything.
Much current research indicates that humility is an essential characteristic for successful leadership.
Jim Collins talks about this in “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve.”
Gywn Teatro touches on a similar theme in “A Case for Being A Nice Boss“.
Forget the Jack Welch and Albert J. “Chainsaw Al” Dunlop leadership models based on a disregard for employees as people and an over-stressing of bottom line measurements, along with a strong tendency to attribute all success to their own actions.
This research indicates that you can be nice, self-effacing, and yet still get the job done.
Villarica’s article provides a brief overview of research done through the University of Buffalo‘s school of management that indicates three main behaviors for humble leaders:
1) Lead by example
2) Admit and learn from their mistakes
3) Recognize follower’s strengths
All three require a sense of self which transcends ego and power.
The humble leader knows that the success of the team, the group, and the organization depend on the work of all. The realistic leader understands that the leaders’s contribution may be the least valuable of all in attaining the goal, at least in many ways.
Being effective, on the other hand, is essential. You can even trade off being well-liked for being more effective. Too often, the most effective leadership behavior will not be the most liked behavior.
Here’s what some of the leading world religions have to say about being humble:
To know when one does not know is best. To think one knows when one does not know is a dire disease. From Taoism. Tao Te Ching 71
Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. From Christianity Philippians 2.3
Be of an exceedingly humble spirit, for the end of man is the worm. From Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 4.4
Be humble, be harmless, Have no pretension, Be upright, forbearing; Serve your teacher in true obedience, Keeping the mind and body in cleanness, Tranquil, steadfast, master of ego, Standing apart from the things of the senses, Free from self; Aware of the weakness in mortal nature. From Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 13.7-8
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. From Christianity Matthew 5.5 Harithah ibn Wahb al-Khuza`i tells how he heard the Prophet say, “Have I not taught you how the inhabitants of Paradise will be all the humble and the weak, whose oaths God will accept when they swear to be faithful? Have I not taught you how the inhabitants of hell will be all the cruel beings, strong of body and arrogant?” From Islam. Hadith of Bukhari
If you are lucky enough to combine a true sense of humility, being well-liked, and are a highly effective leader, congratulations are in order, because that’s about as good as it gets.
The Takeaway: Being better liked is NOT a valuable indicator for a leader. Being respected because you are respectful of your followers is invaluable.
Trying real hard not to keep humming that country song in the Heartland ….