Influential Leadership: Building up Through Humility

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According to a recent poll conducted by the Harvard Business Review, 58% of surveyed employees trust strangers more than their leader.  Think about that number—more than half put more faith in some random Joe on the street instead of their leader.  What’s causing this?  The answer might be simpler than you’d think.  It’s a lack of connection.  It’s employees feeling that they don’t have a strong bond with their leader.  After all, leadership is about influencing the people around you.  And how can you expect to influence a team that feels disconnected from you?

How can we, as leaders, build up those bonds?  First, think about a “good” leader.  What traits does this person possess?  For many of us, we think of someone with a strong will, a hefty helping of charisma, a clear vision, and boundless enthusiasm.  And while these are all excellent traits to have, did you notice what’s missing from the list?  The answer: humility.

Why?

Recently, the vision of a “good” leader has become dominated by phrases such as “the power of persuasion,” and managers have been encouraged to adopt an over-the-top, exaggerated confidence.  This turns them into a figurehead and an old-school version of The Boss.  They become untouchable—and unapproachable.

Meanwhile, according to research conducted by Administrative Science Quarterly, it turns out that leaders who actively seek out feedback and focus on the needs of the team over their own—that is to say, leaders who act with humility—saw higher levels of employee engagement and job performance.  There is also lower levels of turnover rate in an environment with a more humble leader. After all, when leading with humility, you’re creating bonds with your employees’ hearts and minds, which in turns makes it harder for recruiters to lure them away!

How?

So, you’ve decided you want to lead with more humility.  How to get started?  The first step is easy: make yourself open to your team’s opinions.  Encourage collaboration and listen to the ideas that your employees bring to the table.  We all want to be valued and heard, but too often we allow our employees to be ignored and dismissed.  Adopt an open door policy and take your team’s points of view into account.  While listening to your team, make sure to put their needs before your own.  We all want to know that our leaders have our backs, so make it explicitly clear through your actions and words.

Perhaps the hardest part of leading with humility is admitting when we as leaders have made a mistake.  No one likes having been wrong or taking a misstep.  We’ve been encouraged to put on our leader masks for so long that we now feel like we’re playing a role instead of acting authentically.  This is called Imposter Syndrome.  We feel that we’ve become shallow versions of ourselves. But, by leading with humility and being willing to admit you don’t know everything, not only will your employees’ work lives improve—but so will yours.  

Finally, take the time at the end of the day to reflect on your own performance. How did you do at leading humbly?  Be honest with yourself.  One way to do this is to keep a journal and look back on your day.  What did you do well?  What can you do better tomorrow?  

Leading with humility implies a certain amount of vulnerability, which can be counter-intuitive and worrisome for many managers.  Like any new habit, give it time to grow and develop.  Give yourself time and opportunity to become a better, more humble version of the great leader you are.  More than anything, stay curious.  Stay honest.  Stay humble.