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  • WSL Leadership

Leadership Humility Done Well

A friend once overheard two kids talking. One was bragging about their abilities and the other kid angrily responded “Be more humil!”

Has anyone ever told you something similar? Have you rolled your eyes at someone’s distinct lack of humility?

While we’re all working on getting the imperative form of humility to catch on, let’s look at the nuances of that thing you’re really, really supposed to have but not supposed to tell anyone about.

Humility is a crucial leadership skill because we trust humble leaders more. In high-functioning teams, trust makes everything easier. If you’re only not doing things to avoid coming off as not humble you’re missing out on how to actively pursue humility and building trust in your team.

Here’s a brief humility DO NOT DO THIS list:

  • Don’t brag

  • Don’t be egotistical

  • Don’t steal the credit for things others’ did

  • Don’t think you always have the right answer or have the only right answer

The DO NOT DO THIS list is an argument for being passive. It also undermines the self-efficacy of leaders. It’s hard to stay busy not doing things. So what ARE you actually doing to be humble?

Active humility can take on several forms:

  • Acknowledging people who do valuable work

  • Owning up to your mistakes (instead of blaming others or sweeping things under the rug)

  • Openly pursuing growth/learning (doing this implicitly admits that you don’t know everything already - Shane Snow is a great resource for more on intellectual humility)

This is just the tip of the iceberg for active humility. If doing these things doesn’t feel natural to you, you might not be a very humble leader. That’s ok! You can practice and build these emotionally intelligent leadership skills. You can also ask your teammates for advice on how to be a more humble leader. Both the content and flow of those conversations would be very instructive.

By pursuing the active side of humility you are using your leadership voice to build trust in your team. This can happen if you’re in an official leadership role or not. We all want powerful followers ( on our teams to make them the best they can be. An actively humble leader creates space for powerful followers by building team trust based on openness, honesty and growth.

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