Leaders who are wise in their own eyes seem to be the ones who get the most attention in our world. They’re the outspoken, big personality, larger-than-life characters who always seem absolutely convinced of their own wisdom despite any evidence to the contrary. They capture the news headlines, private equity investors, and achieve personal wealth and fame. The only thing they don’t seem to possess is a healthy dose of humility.
Yet a number of research studies have shown that humble leaders are more effective at bringing people together, marshaling resources toward a common goal, and accomplishing organizational objectives. One study showed that firms led by a CEO who scored high in humility developed management teams that were more likely to collaborate and make joint decisions, share information openly, and possess a shared vision. And of course in the classic book, Good to Great, author Jim Collins’ discovered that those organizations who moved from average to superior performance shared a common factor of being led by Level 5 leaders, people who possessed a powerful mixture of humility and indomitable will.
So how can we develop humility in our leadership? I believe it’s a life-long journey, but we can start by:
- Considering others more important than our self…and treating them that way. Humble leaders make it a practice to put the needs of their teammates ahead of their own. They look for ways to serve others rather than being served. That doesn’t mean they let their team walk all over them. As Ken Blanchard likes to say, “Being humble doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself, it means thinking about yourself less.” Humble leaders facilitate the development of structures, systems, and processes that allow people to effectively use their skills to accomplish the organization’s goals.
- Viewing yourself as a steward. Unless you are the founder and owner of the company, you’ve been hired as a steward to manage and develop that which has been entrusted to you. Stewards understand that everything they have is on loan and can be taken away in an instant. Therefore, they view their leadership as a responsibility to care for, nurture, and grow the organization and the people who comprise it.
- Remembering all the help you received along the way. Humble leaders realize and appreciate the help they received along their journey. I think there are very few, if any, truly “self-made” individuals in the world. Anyone who has achieved a modicum of success has benefited from the help of someone else. Maybe it was a parent who paid your college tuition, a coach who inspired confidence, a teacher who opened the doorway to learning, or the manager who hired you for your first job. The point is, someone believed in you and gave you a chance. Humble leaders do the same for others.
- Believing in something bigger than yourself. The opening line in Rick Warren’s best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, summarizes the heart attitude of humble leaders: “It’s not about you.” At the center of the lives of humble leaders is a values system that drives their beliefs and actions. Whether it’s your religious faith, core values, or personal mission statement, it’s critical to have a philosophical or moral code that serves as the foundation for your leadership. In the absence of such a grounding framework, you will put yourself at the center of your leadership philosophy and that’s the root cause of becoming a leader who is wise in his own eyes.
Proverbs 26: 11-12 contains a warning for people who reject personal humility and think “they’re all that:” As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly. Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.”
My life experience has been that leaders who are wise in their own eyes eventually suffer a downfall. They may demonstrate signs of success over the short-term, but they can’t sustain lasting success over the long-term. Humble leaders, on the other hand, are the ones I’ve seen that leave teams and organizations in a better position than they found them and create a lasting impact that far out lives their personal contributions.