Leadership, What’s So Hot About Humility Anyway?

Humility rarely made the list of traditional leadership qualities. Leadership programs taught decisiveness believing that people wanted leaders to be strong, courageous, very knowledgeable, self-confident, and certain.

Although humility is now on the radar screen, it is far from universally embraced as an essential leadership trait. Many still ask what’s so hot about humility anyway? Answer: Its incredible power when leading change.


Leadership: What's So Hot About Humility? Image by:MarchieCTID via Creative Commons License



Humility Creates the Powerful Path of Least Resistance

  1. Just as water sustains humans, humility sustains a mission throughout the long journey.

    It flows with quiet power and overtakes obstacles along the way. It moves throughout the organization and reaches all levels with its influence.


  2. Humility smoothes resistance.

    It doesn’t create it. This makes it an invaluable leadership people-skills trait when introducing the discomfort of change. As humility listens, it comforts those in the struggle and invites them to find ways around the obstacles.


  3. Humility equalizes the field of pain and gain.

    This enables leaders to empathize while influencing to the end result. Humility replaces the phrase “We’re all in this together” with daily actions that move everyone forward.


  4. It builds tremendous trust.

    A leader’s humility assures all that there is no artifice nor hidden agenda. As a result, there is nowhere to hide nor any reason to try. The path of change is clear, the dedication evident, and the commitment unquestioned.


  5. Humility respects all.

    Perhaps this is where it gets its greatest power. Humility disagrees without denigrating. It holds all accountable without blaming. It honors all without minimizing any.

  6. “To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness.” ~Benjamin Franklin




Humility is not silent, weak, or humiliating. It is an unstoppable force that both leads and feeds during tough times of change.

Yet despite many success stories, there are many leaders who still doubt humility’s value. What do you think blocks them from it?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
Never Confuse Humility With Humiliation

Humility in Leadership? Depends on How You Define It!

An Essential Aspect of Leadership: Intellectual Humility

©2012 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish this post, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.


Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

49 Responses to “Leadership, What’s So Hot About Humility Anyway?”

  1. Steve Keating says:

    No quality in a leader is uglier than arrogance. A humble leader accomplishes more in an hour than an arrogant leader does in a year. Contrary to what many people think humility in a leader is NOT a weakness, it is a tremendous strength.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Couldn’t agree more Steve — and it takes tremendous strength to be humble sometimes!

      Many thanks and Happy Sunday to you.
      Kate

    • Jimmy Weeks says:

      Seldom do I run across leadership evaluation tools that include such traits in the survey. When it does and I answer the questions honestly, my rating places me in a box with only one or two others in the room. We’re then collected together and placed at a table near the side of the room. Those who scored higher on the survey, hold their heads up high, thump their chests and greet one another at center stage. Not all mind you. There is hope and I am fortunate to have been mentored by leaders who suffer from the same flaws I have.

      Even with these flaws of humility and empathy, I still have managed to do fairly well in my 50+ years of family and careers. Would you think a Fire Captain and CIO could score so low on leadership test and still be somewhat successful?
      Any success I have achieved is a reflection of how I have treated and supported my team and peers. Respect, humility, honor, trust and empathy I believe are required values. It is their shoulders I stand upon and it is they who I admire and celebrate. I am forever in their debt.
      I look forward to the day when there are more sitting with us at the same table and arrogance has left the room.
      I yam what I yam.

      • Kate Nasser says:

        Dear Jimmy,
        Your story speaks volumes about the lingering myth of leadership — that strength and humility are mutually exclusive and that there’s no place for empathy. Ridiculous. Fire captain and CIO shows that you can achieve greatness with these honorable traits.

        In fact, leading this new generation of creative innovators takes a great deal of the strengths you test high on and I LOVE the imagery of you sitting at a side table. I could actually picture it.

        Thanks much for sharing your story. You are living proof that the qualities I speak of in this post exist in successful people!

        Warmest regards,
        Kate

  2. Andre Edias says:

    Great post! It takes a strong character in order to show some humility as both an leader and person.
    Andre

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Yes Andre and I like your extension — it takes strength of character to be humble as both a leader ***and a person. Yet judging from the comments on this post, humility is truly an admired trait regardless of how hard some people make it for others to practice it and live it.

      Many thanks,
      Kate

  3. Ellen Weber says:

    Thanks Kate for the way you show humility as the segue into change, improvement and wisdom! Love your connections between humility and “respect.” Refreshing read – and you model it especially well! Best, Ellen

  4. Ryan Setter says:

    Brilliant post, Kate. Embracing humility often requires utilizing many other core, essential leadership/charater traits – I think that the journey to humility silently adds a spotlight to these traits in a leader, and really lets them shine so much more.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      I agree Ryan. It shines an incredible spotlight on the leader’s character and giving spirit.

      Many thanks for your comment today .. and all your contributions to these discussions.
      Kate

  5. Melissa Kovacevic says:

    Loved your post and the Ben Franklin quote! Lack of humility is not just a Leader problem but plaques some of our customer service agents too. These are the agents who don’t give empathy or apologize, but instead give the “I know better than you do” tone followed by reading off policies and procedures.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      SO true Melissa. You and I see this first hand as customer service consultants … and the customers experience first hand with horrible results for them and the service provider.

      Many thanks for your contribution here.
      Kate

  6. Wally Bock says:

    Wonderful post, Kate. What I think too many bosses miss is that being humble is being realistic.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Very interesting angle you bring to this discussion on humility Wally — that being humble is being realistic. Throw off the bravado, the big head, the ultimatums, etc… and reach the goals with your team.

      Simple and true. Thanks!
      Kate

  7. Carolyn F. says:

    Very nice, Kate. “Humility dis-agrees without denigrating. Holds everyone accountable without blaming.”
    Carolyn

  8. Khalid says:

    Hi Kate,

    I see humility and trust come hand in hand. If people trust your leadership then they will never translate your humility as weakness.

    Once trust is in place, humility will flow as a natural result of mutual understanding.

    Thanks for the insight Kate.

    Regards,
    Khalid

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Khalid,
      You make a very good point here — that trust clears vision to see the truth. When teams trust their leaders, they don’t see humility as weakness. To me it says that teams must give a new leader a chance to show what his/her behavior really means instead of snap judging to assume that anything less than arrogance is weak.

      I appreciate what you have added here and send you my thanks.
      Kate

  9. I love this post and agree with you about humility makes others feel. I wish humility were a more desired value. However, I still think most leaders are arrogant and that many people seek arrogance in a leader for various reasons — perhaps because they equate it with strength and confidence. Curious what your thoughts are on this.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Pauline,
      I disagree that people seek arrogance. I do think they seek confidence in a leader yet confidence and humility are not mutually exclusive. In fact, that is one of the biggest mistakes people make. Humility is the ultimate confidence for it shows that the leader doesn’t have to use power to get all to achieve the goal. S/he can build commitment through inclusion, critical thinking, and can-do attitudes.

      Thank you very much for being a part of this discussion. I hope you will visit and contribute often here at Smart SenseAbilities(tm).
      Kate

  10. Great post with solid points. If humility doesn’t “smooth” resistance, it definitely takes the rough edges off of it. Arrogance kills the conversation quickly. Humility keeps the door open to communicating. No one can solve anything if people stop talking to each other.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Tim,
      Another great add. Thanks for “No one can solve anything if people stop talking to each other” when arrogance overwhelms the conversation.

      Terrific.

      Thanks and regards,
      Kate

  11. Kate — What a valuable post about a key characteristic for an effective leader. I bet they don’t teach this one in B-school — but they certainly should!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      I don’t think they teach it Denise although I cannot say for sure. Perhaps they are starting to through engagement strategies and wouldn’t it be a boon to future business success!

      Many thanks for your insight here.
      Kate

  12. Redge says:

    Hi Kate, I can really relate to the topic of humility as presented here in your thought provoking post. As a change agent / catalyst, my experience suggests that humility is an essential leadership trait to foster an environment where sustainable change is embraced by everyone. Humility breeds authenticity and transparency where the focus of change is on the betterment of the company – not the person running it.

    To be effective, I would suggest that humility is often the only means to tap into the expertise of the people who work in the very business we are attempting to turn around. Humility levels the playing field. While I fully understand the goals to be achieved, I don’t pretend to have all the answers to resolve a successful solution. To the contrary, humility is exposed through the many questions I usually ask to understand what is really happening.

    It is difficult to enter into a company where your expertise will be challenged from the onset. Humility helps everyone to realize that there’s nothing to prove. Let’s focus on the results and tasks at hand – all the while realizing it’s not about me or you but us.

    To be truly effective, I see humility as one of the key strengths of today’s leaders. Humility is a prerequisite for an engaged culture where respect is a given – not just earned.

    Excellent post Kate! Thanks for sharing.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Dear Redge,
      We share a profession of change consulting and as your professional colleague I say “kudos” for your description of how humility shines through in every question. It levels the field and gets everyone focused on the commitment to solve the problem.

      Many thanks for weighing in on this one.

      Regards and thanks,
      Kate

  13. Ajmanik says:

    Hi Kate,

    Great article about humility – I agree with you that humility should not be construed as a sign of weakness. In most cases, the leaders who are truly humble, have tremendous reserves of a quiet inner strength. We just have to look beyond the outer layer of their personality :)

    Kumud

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks Kumud — so pleased you found the post valuable. Your comment about personality type caught my eye.

      There are some quiet humble leaders and there are also outspoken leaders who are humble in their thinking and in what they say. Humility is not as much an outer shell as an inner belief of continuous improvement that prevents arrogance.

      So pleased to have your thoughts here. And kudos to your Sunday morning inspirational twitter chat. I encourage all to tap into #SpiritChat 9amET every Sun morning.

      Regards and thanks again,
      Kate

  14. Terrific post, Kate –

    Humility is such a powerful approach to this life, yet it doesn’t get the headlines that greed & boldness does. Yet greed & boldness has created some pretty significant screw ups over the past few years (like, oh, the recession).

    Thanks for raising awareness of this servant-driven practice!

    Cheers!

    C.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you Chris. Humility is not shyness or introversion. It is a powerful inner belief that can prevent many of the (as you call them) screw ups resulting from arrogance and closed-mindedness.

      Grateful for your comments here today.

      Kate

  15. Jon Mertz says:

    Wonderful post, Kate, and spot on! Humility centers us, and it makes us better leaders and human beings. Humility demonstrates the strength of our character. Thank you! Jon

  16. Mike Brown says:

    I think humility is often difficult for leaders to embrace because there are so many cues coming at us from so many varied places that say quite the opposite of humility. There aren’t many champions for humility. There are a lot of champions for rubbing your success and accomplishments in other’s faces to attain a sense of superiority. Humility points to every other direction but oneself while as a society the message is to point to “me.”

  17. Great post! Humility is putting your cause and your people above yourself. It’s hard to fail with such motivation. Humility is not weakness! Humility is the basis for service leadership.

  18. Kate,
    A wonderful post and topic. Humility is difficult for leaders to embrace as I see so many feel it is difficult to humble themselves as a sign of weakness and also they find it difficult to be vulnerable with others.

    Humility takes strength and courage. To be humble is lets down your guard and allows others to see that you are able to put yourself aside for the greater good and put others before yourself. Arrogance holds many leaders back from humility as well. Leaders who display humility do so with great self confidence. It is a powerful trait to have and display.

    Thanks for this wonderful post.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks Jen. Arrogance holds many back yet is often unseen when hiring. Many leaders end up with executive coaches to work on this very issue and accomplish much. I often wonder why organizations hire arrogance and then work to eliminate it.

      Perhaps another post on another day!

      Thanks again for your addition to this discussion.
      Kate

  19. Great post. Self confidence is a very important trait for leaders, I’ve seen it in those who are sure they have the judgement and knowledge to make sound decisions but are also open, converse and listen. Often when leaders take the ‘I’m in charge and anyone who doesn’t agree with everything I do can find somewhere else to work’ they are actually unsure of themselves. It takes self confidence to show humility. You can be a great leader whilst showing humility.

  20. [...] Believing that confidence and humility cannot co-exist. Regardless of personality type, a person can be both confident in their message and humble in delivering it. Key thought: Humility is flexible and open to learning and that delivers success. [...]

  21. Excellent post, Kate. I love the quote from B.Franklin. What blocks leaders from grasping this is either low self-esteem or a blatant uncaring of others. In my corporate lives, I’ve had some of the best bosses – ever. However, the ones who created an unwavering, I’ll-walk-thru-fire-for-you loyalty amongst their direct reports were the leaders who downplayed themselves and exhaulted those who reported to them. By default, they also set the example for their direct reports to model the same behavior with their teams. From my observation, the humble leaders were able to enact change the quickest and with the highest degree of success.

  22. Great Post Kate! Especially LOVE #5!

    “Humility respects all. Perhaps this is where it gets its greatest power. Humility disagrees without denigrating. It holds all accountable without blaming. It honors all without minimizing any.”

    “To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness.” ~Benjamin Franklin

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  24. Kate, humility can be tough for brash and charismatic leaders, but subtle self-promotion around areas of competence can also be tough for non-assuming people! It’s impossible to have too much humility though! http://www.nathanmagnuson.com/2012/09/17/reconciling-humility-and-leadership/

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  26. [...] know-it-all leader is not a great leader. The neutral leader is not a great leader. The leader who practices humility becomes the model of how to disagree without being disagreeable. Neutrality doesn’t model [...]

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  30. Kate A says:

    Interestingly, I got the word “humility” tattooed on the inside of my left wrist just yesterday afternoon. It is the one quality I seem to forget regularly and is the one thing that is stopping me from dropping self pity behind and moving on to personal success. Jimmy, I am aspiring to be a fire fighter! (see recent comment below)

    Sending you all peace.

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  33. [...] Humility is not humiliation. Humility allows us to put the customers emotional needs ahead of ours. We are the professionals. This is not humiliation which is the driving emotion behind the guilty/sorry debate. The debate is useless. It sidetracks us from the main goal — delivering superior customer service and retaining that customer. [...]

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