Leadership: Never Confuse Humility and Humiliation

As I consult to strong leaders on employee engagement, some understand humility, its value, and use it well. Their emotional intelligence, not their directive strength, secures their leadership identity. They are comfortable with employee engagement for they see leaders and teams as interdependent.

Other leaders confuse humility and humiliation. Their view of leadership is all about their strength. As a result, they struggle with employee engagement and how to inspire teams to maximum achievement.

Leadership: Never Confuse Humility and Humiliation Image Licensed from Istock.

Humility in Leadership:

  1. Equalizes all on human qualities leading to tighter bonds.
  2. Propels everyone to learn from any mistakes leading to incredible growth.
  3. Elevates purpose above personal rallying all to organizational success.
  4. Celebrates all talents through inclusion inviting all to grow.
  5. Achieves more not less seeing more opportunities without the green eye of jealousy.
  6. Is the essence of truth and transparency leading to greater trust.

Humiliation, a loss of dignity and respect, is more likely to occur when leaders lack humility. Acting important and treating others with disregard creates disrespect in return. Constantly issuing orders can create a virtual mutiny which blocks success – a pretty humiliating event for business leaders.

Understanding the difference between humility and humiliation can move you forward to experience humility’s benefits. True humility sustains you and others. Humiliation destroys most in its path.

Humility is not:

  • Silence. Humility engages everyone’s voice and magnifies success.
  • Sheepishness. It strengthens the whole team and cultivates future leaders.
  • A change in personality type. It is a core belief that drives your voice to just the right words at just the right time.
  • Lack of confidence. In fact, the truly self-confident are more comfortable with being humble.
  • Fake. Humility strips away the posturing of greatness and shines the light on your true leadership.
  • Surrender. It is stronger than any yell for it replaces the ego — the target of conflict — with the “we go”.
  • Abandonment. It is an engages all to learn and grow together.

Consider replacing the weak image of humility with a picture of its authentic strengths. Tapping others’ talents shows your confidence. Hearing others’ opinions expands your view. Celebrating the whole instead of yourself extends your reach.

You will not be abdicating your position to others. You will be growing your influence by engaging all to walk with you — instead of behind you.

When you combine humility with emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and proficient people-skills, the respect for your leadership soars.

You inspire all generations in the workplace to maximum contribution by fulfilling the most human need — to be included, recognized, acknowledged, and appreciated.

Have you ever worked for a humble leader? How did you feel? What was the outcome on the organization? From your perspective, are there any risks of a leader being humble?

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

Related Posts:
Are You Too Nice to Lead?
Leaders, Engage Employees Through Their Entrepreneurial Spirit
To Bring Out the Best in Millenials, Put On Your Coaching Hat! by Dr. Tony Wagner in Fast Company Magazine.

©2012-2014 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com for permission and guidelines. 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.



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17 Responses to “Leadership: Never Confuse Humility and Humiliation”

  1. Martina says:

    Excellent post Kate.

    Far too many people have the opinion that humility is a signs of weakness. As you have correctly pointed out, it is a mark of strength, intelligence and authenticity. It requires being very comfortable with who you are, as well as your own strengths and weaknesses, and remove your ego and/ or pride from center stage; because it is truly, very rarely about us. It is a well-honed ability to put others first and lead them from behind or walking alongside them as the case may be.


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you Martina. This post came from my core of my experience as I continue to see leaders push aside the caring approach to leading lest they look weak. It is better than it was years ago yet not all the way there.

      I like your phrase “well-honed ability to put others first” — and that takes strength of character.

      Bravo to your insight and thank you for adding to this post.

      Warmest wishes,

  2. Craig says:

    Hi Kate

    I thoroughly enjoyed the read. I wish I knew who said it but when it comes to humility, “Swallow your pride occasionally… It’s non-fattening!”.


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Dear Craig,
      So very pleased you commented on this post … and I do like the quote you left. If I find the “author” of it, I will share it with you. I too don’t know who said it.

      I hope you will visit us here at Smart SenseAbilities(tm) and add your thoughts on any post of interest.

      Regards and thanks,

  3. Jon Mertz says:

    Great post, Kate. I believe one of the critical attributes of sound leadership is humility. It keeps people centered. Practicing humility means we listen a little more. Practicing humility means we keep ourselves from stepping away from core principles. Practicing humility keeps us focused on empowering others and working with others. I could go on, but it all comes back to: Humility keeps us centered.

    We need more leaders who embrace humility. Thanks for making the distinction and calling on others to practice humility!


  4. scott_elumn8 says:

    The key to level 5 leadership is humility according to Jim Collins. Great post Kate. Thanks!!

  5. Kimunya says:

    Spot on Kate! Many people confuse humility with being a door mat. Being humble does not mean others have the green light to to walk all over you. Humility also means that moderation is required, especially during those on-the-pedestal-moments when you win big.
    I propose that humility has to do with moderation and balance. If you are the leader, accept that you are not the custodian of all knowledge and expertise and bring in your team to support you. If you are the expert, accept praise for your exploits while you work hard to impart your strengths to others. It requires a lot of self-restraint when a leader has to receive praise for something attributed to the entity they head, yet choose to publicly bestow it on those who did the actual work. Disregard for others efforts leads to their humiliation (and often to your own especially when a presentation goes awry and you have no clue how to sort it out).
    Does humility make one a lesser mortal or weak? No. Actually, you stand to gain more from being humble than from displaying your ‘braggart ignorance’. You will gain more respect and follower-ship, as you can be entrusted with asset; physical or intellectual. Humility keeps you grounded in truth. “Lay down the true principles, and adhere to them inflexibly. Do not be frightened into their surrender…” Thomas Jefferson

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Bravo Kimunya. Self-restraint takes great strength and knowing where the balance is shows great insight. That’s leadership.

      Love your “balanced view” and hope you will weight in on any post of interest here at Smart SenseAbilities(tm). The way you write illustrated the points you were writing about. Nice!

      Regards and thanks,

  6. This is so well done, Kate. Your posts are models for saying a great deal in a small space.
    I particularly like the list of what humility is not, particularly the point about surrender and “we go.” One can be very strong from a humble place.
    I guess all I would add is I believe humility is never completely learned; it’s an ongoing journey.
    When we think we know what humble means — it’s probably just another blind spot to overcome.
    So ongoing conversations like the one here are real gifts, constantly reminding us that there’s always more to understand.

  7. Wonderful post Kate!
    Every person aspiring to be a better leader ought to read it. It takes a real strong leader to show true humility and to be humble. And you grow as a person of such a leaders´team:)

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you Anna. Your last statement means so much. People and results flourish in that environment.

      I hope you will share the link to this post with any you think will find it valuable.

      Best wishes and regards,

  8. Ragnar B. Sulejewski says:

    The management metafor that the HR dep. in the Company Ravago has, shows the well-honed being related to humility: ” A Shepherd doesn’t walk in front of its herd, but follows behind to steer it”………..and thank you Kate for Your inspireing websides.

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