Many managers subscribe to the belief that they need to be perfect. They believe that any time they make a mistake, they will lose the respect of their staff and their peers. They fear that signs of imperfection or excellence will cause them to lose credibility and question if they should actually be in a leadership position at all. This commonly held belief is not only a falsehood, I would argue to the opposite effect. The more that a leader recognizes that they don’t have all the answers, the more they will realize that others have input from which they can learn, and the better they will lead and become more respected by their employees as compared to someone who consistently defends their choices even when they are wrong. Humble leaders are able to develop workplace cultures that are organic. That is, they grow and develop without excessive external input. By creating a culture of humility, honest recognition of strengths, and areas of growth, are openly acknowledged and thus can be utilized in order to accomplish goals through remarkable collaboration.
So how does humility do this, and how does a humble leader provide this to their staff?
Humility is the ability to recognize that you are imperfect. A humbler leader recognizes their own weaknesses and seek those who have strengths in those specific areas. They seek the knowledge that they don’t have in order to better themselves. However, this can’t happen unless they acknowledge their own limitations. While there will be many times when you must be confident even when you don’t have all of the answers, don’t mistake confidence for a lack of humility.
You can be confident in your decision-making while acknowledging that you don’t have all of the answers. At these moments you have the opportunity, as a leader, to empower your staff and peers who may have a strength that you lack.
Acknowledging that another individual will be able to accomplish the task more effectively is not a weakness. Good leaders recognize that by showing humility, you are honoring those who have strengths which you lack because you are able to give them an opportunity to shine, utilizing their strengths.
Humility requires the use of many other skills. Humility is not simply the ability to state when you are wrong. Effective humility is showing your peers and staff that you are open to alternative options and new ideas. As a leader, you are forging ahead in areas where others have not gone. You are acting as the example of what that humility looks like and what you expect from your staff. By leading with humility, you show your staff that they don’t need to have all of the answers in order to be a valued member of the team. They can make mistakes and still be essential to the growth of the company and the work being done. Showing that it is okay to be imperfect teaches your team that they can be imperfect. You teach them that times of uncertainty and unmatched skill level provide opportunities for growth and problem-solving. When humility is spread among the team these opportunities for growth often come in the form of insight into the unique strengths of each employee. This provides knowledge of who would best tackle future challenges based on their individual capabilities within the team.
It is essential that humility becomes a part of a healthy workplace culture. That starts with a leader who understands what humility is and how it impacts their team. Self-confidence is the ability to recognize that your status as a leader is not impeded by that which you do not know. Often, business cultures focus on damage-control; focusing on improving the weaknesses of their staff. This is a systemic behavior that enables the fallacy of what a manage should and should not know. In these broken workplace cultures, your weaknesses mean you need to attend training and get “fixed.”
These weaknesses then act as evidence that maybe you shouldn't be leading employees who do not have such weaknesses. Business cultures cannot foster a healthy work environment while maintaining this perspective on strengths and weaknesses. Rather, a business’ culture benefits when they recognize their employee’s unique strengths and that the strength of a company is found in their ability to invest in diverse strengths so that where one employee has a weakness, there is another employee who has a strength. It is not about making every staff member a jack-of-all-trades employee. Instead a healthy business culture practicing humility honors the strengths of their staff by giving them opportunities to hone their talents, leaving the weaknesses behind.
Many leaders struggle with overcompensating for their weaknesses by using their authority to force decisions, even when they are in the wrong. Instead, a true leader recognizes when they are wrong and they are willing to adapt. When someone is willing to ask questions, it means that they are wanting to grow. A leader willing to ask questions fosters a culture of humility. When a leader is willing to set aside their infallible persona in order to accomplish a goal, they stand as an example of how a cohesive, cooperative team successfully operates.
Lorna Hegarty, an Internationally Certified Master Coach, is the author of “The Seven Essential Practices of Great Leaders”. She is the President of LCH Resources Limited, a Human Resources Coaching and Consulting Organization.