Humility

In a past newsletters we described WJM Associates' Leadership Point-of-View by highlighting seven characteristics of effective leadership. To see the full article, as well as best practices for developing effective leaders within an organization, please click here.

The next several issues of the WJManagement Advisor will each include an article focusing on one of these characteristics. In this issue we address the fifth of these seven: Humility.

It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.
-Gandhi

The battle to the White House was fought hard between Barack Obama and John McCain. Voters were faced with a tough decision to choose between two formidable candidates. Surely, the candidates' plans to respond to our current economic crisis and international and domestic needs were all important criteria voters used to determine their pick. However, one could argue that the characteristic that all voters responded to was each candidate's personal humility.

Humility, which is the acknowledgment of the truth about who we are in relationship to others, is absolutely essential to effective leadership. A leader secure enough to admit that he or she doesn't have, or need to have, all the answers is rewarded with the contributions of talented followers committed to the success of the whole organization. Jim Collin's research, which became the basis for his watershed book Good to Great, is full of examples of organizations that have consistently outperformed their peers over time when led by an individual with the qualities of deep personal humility and unwavering perseverance towards stated goals.

Leaders often demonstrate humility by shifting the focus away from themselves and continually recognizing the contributions of others. Take for example, Patrick Daniel, CEO of North American energy and pipeline company Enbridge. He espouses two leadership attributes: determination to create results and humility."I have learned through the lives of great leaders," he said, "that greatness comes from humility and being at times, self-effacing."

Leaders can practice humility by:

  • Allowing others to be in the limelight.
  • Learning that trying to be perfect will often fail.
  • Avoiding over preaching without permission.
  • Seeking others' input on how you are doing.
  • Encouraging the practice of humility in your company through your own example: every time you share credit for successes with others, you reinforce the culture of humility for your team.

In conclusion, there are many benefits to organizations when their leaders practice humility. These include improved relationships across all levels, reduced anxiety, increased openness and interestingly enough, enhanced self-confidence.


Tracy Duberman is Senior Vice President, Organizational Effectiveness at WJM Associates.

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