Leadership, Is Humility a Fad or the Future?

Leadership theories have changed over the years. Today we read a great deal about humility being a key leadership trait. Certainly a break from the touted leadership traits of years past.

Is it just a fad or truly the future of leadership? It is an important question especially for those new to leadership. Their performance might depend on the definition of humility.

Websters dictionary offers this definition of humble/humility:
: not proud or haughty : not arrogant or assertive

Comfortable so far with the idea of leaders being humble?

What if we add this definition of humility and a few synonyms:
: reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission
: lowliness, meekness, submissiveness

Humility in Leadership. Image by:19Melissa68

How about this definition tweeted on Twitter by @OpenRoadMedia: Humility means accepting reality with no attempt to outsmart it.

Once the definition turns to submissiveness and accepting reality with no attempt to change it, there are many who become very uncomfortable with humility as a leadership trait.

Not arrogant or haughty – is a welcome trend.


Submissive, non-assertive, and accepting reality — creates a serious void.

My definition of humility in leadership:

Continuous learning to improve your imperfections for the benefit of all.

It inspires all to avoid arrogance and more importantly to keep growing for the benefit of all they work with and for the organization. Work on your imperfections; don’t let them stop you from working and leading.

What say you? Yes to humility as a leadership trait? And if so, what definition would you recommend?

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

©2011 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers consulting, training, DVDs, and keynotes on leading change, customer experience, employee engagement and teamwork. She turns interaction obstacles into business success especially in tough times of change. See this site for workshops outlines and customer results.

15 Responses to “Leadership, Is Humility a Fad or the Future?”

  1. Matt Jury says:

    When serving others I believe humility is key. One could argue that everyone, leaders and followers all serve others in one capacity or another… and I’d agree. I’d define humility as this; placing the needs of those you serve at the forefront of every decision you make. I believe that is both humility and leadership.

    If you’re not on this earth to serve others do you believe that others should be serving you? I don’t know what that mindset is labeled but I don’t think its leadership. Food for thought.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Interesting comment Matt. We are all serving in some way and yet so many people don’t see it! I appreciate your visit, your perspective, and your contribution.

      Many thanks,

  2. Kate,

    Thanks for another great post. There’s a discussion on this topic going on right now over on the Lead Change Group LinkedIn page. It should be near the top of the action at http://bit.ly/leadchange. We’ve run the gamut of conversation about humility being weakness or lacking the strength to assert oneself as the best solution to a problem. It’s a lively discussion.

    That said, I do appreciate your definition. My humility definition is understanding accurately both your own (and others) value, strengths, weaknesses and importance. So it a learned and developed skill. It’s the value of knowing what you don’t know and knowing what you can’t do. Anyone who really has some idea of knowing what they don’t know, understands the importance of learning and growing as well as partnering and cooperating.

    Thanks for the great post.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Mike,
      I just visited the discussion group you mentioned and it is a good one. Thanks for the ping and your comment here.

      Truly appreciated,

  3. Brock Patterson says:


    It’s been awhile but great to see you evoking thought!

    Humility is here to stay. But it comes with a price many leaders might not understand how to pay for. The key to humility is removing yourself as the beneficiary to your company’s success. Instead, you put your team, your assistants, your department in front. And how tough that is for a leader who is typically known to receive the glory.

    Leaders must remain confident in their ability and seek out mentors to help drive their skills and abilities. If we constantly look to “pay it forward,” the price is worth the admission!

    Serving You,

    Brock Patterson

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Nice connection Brock with “paying it forward”. And it certainly fits with humility. As for beneficiaries of the success, when a leader focuses on the success of the org with inclusion of all those involved — then everyone benefits!

      Thanks for your “add’ on this post. Nice to hear from you again.


  4. Matt Reiter says:

    When leaders take them selves too seriously, bad things happen. The leader is there as a tool for the group. A useful tool that can help direct the efforts of the group.

    I’m glad I found this blog. I’ll be back!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Matt, I too am glad you have found this blog since you add your perspective and remind us that “too serious” has its risks. Many thanks.

  5. Kate – I love your definition of humility. Instead of adjectives, you turn it into an action that demonstrates the intent described by the original defintion you share. You really have a great way with words. Maybe one follow-up question I would ask in a group after sharing your definition is “Who is ALL in your world?” It would be interested in who people perceived as the key beneficiaries of their humility. That could be a powerful conversation.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Kudos on your follow-up question. It would take action to new heights and create true change. Very grateful for your contribution! I am often called the “get it done” girl and action steps are the way to get there.

      Please visit again and also let me know of your posts or those you find that would benefit me and my readers.
      Best wishes,

  6. Great leaders, not necessarily effective bosses, have always had humility. It has always been a part of how good leadership is done. Societal preference has brought it in and out of favor, in my opinion, but it’s always there with quality leadership.

    Great questions Kate!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks William. I do think that humility is an integral part of leadership. There are those who disagree with you and me. They see it as weakness and ineffectiveness. Nonetheless, I see humility as integral to most professional success. It goes a long way in personal relationships too.

      Grateful that you have added your insight to this post and invite you to contribute as often as you can/like.

  7. Al Smith says:

    Thanks Kate. we all need humility. I sincerely hope is a major part of Future Leadership. I tweeted this earlier. My favorite definition is: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less”. It’s all about putting others first and being the leader of a TEAM !

    Thanks again for all you do.


  8. Dave says:

    Humility has always been a crucial tool for long-term leadership success, but has not always been highlighted that way. Self-centered individuals and those who cannot admit mistakes make horrific leaders unless they people buffers to help hide those qualities from others. If you think of those whom you would personally follow anywhere, almost always they are humble.

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