In Praise of Humility

The attribute of humility is not often celebrated in performance reviews, nor is it a part of leadership development programs. But maybe it should be.

We live in an era of self-celebration, and bravado announces our confidence. At work, ambitious people enthusiastically self-promote in order to be singled out for promotion and stretch positions.

Yet as professor of business psychology Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic says, “Bluster and the alpha instinct often get mistaken for ability and effectiveness.” We have a large volume of evidence about the perils of hubris and, consequently, leadership failures.

Hubris is extreme pride and arrogance, and it occurs when those in power lose their connection to reality and vastly overestimate their capabilities. Its opposite – humility – inspires loyalty and productive team work. Jim Collins, in Good to Great, talks about remarkable CEOs who sustain success through leading quietly, not charismatically, and calls them Level 5 leaders.

A classic example of a Level 5 leader is an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will.  According to Collins’ research study, executives who possess this seemingly paradoxical combination of traits are catalysts for the statistically rare event of transforming a good company into a great one.

What does a leader do who acts with personal humility and intense professional will?

Personal Humility

  • Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful.
  • Acts with quiet, calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.
  • Channels ambition into the company, not the self; sets up successors for even more greatness in the next generation.
  • Looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck.

Professional Will

  • Creates superb results, a clear catalyst in the transition from good to great.
  • Demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult.
  • Sets the standard for building an enduring great company; will settle for nothing less.
  • Looks out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company—to other people, external factors, and good luck.

If you’re interested in learning more about how coaching and assessments work for building leadership strengths, including humility, contact me and let’s talk. You can reach me here and on LinkedIn.

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