Many of us want to be known as a humble leader. We want to be known this way not because we believe in it but because it makes us more likeable to others. We fake a few habits here and there thinking that people would like brand us as a humble person. Yet, our efforts fall flat. Others can see through the façade that we are putting on. For example, we have seen messages on social media such as: ‘Humble to have been awarded …..” / “Humbled to be the youngest CFO…..”. These are messages laced with humility but their sole objective is self-promotion and get the attention of the readers. Humility comes through deliberate practice and a deep belief that it is the right thing to do. I am often asked by young professionals on what it takes to be humble leader. Their question is also how does one remain humble in a competitive workplace. My response is that irrespective of the environment in workplace, you can remain humble. Rather, a humble leader makes employees more productive and engaged. So what are traits of a humble leader. Here’s what I call the A – Z of Humble Leader:
A = Awareness Humble leaders know their strengths, weakness, what they can do and what they can’t do. They have high emotional-intelligence and know how to customize emotions for workplace relationships and outcomes.
B = Benevolence Humble leaders are kind, empathetic and fair. They look at things from others point of view. It does not mean they let go non-performers scot- free. It means they are explicit about workplace expectations and team’s performance against it without any bias. Yet, when required they are kind.For example, being considerate about workplace timings for an employee who is taking care of a cancer patient at home. They also generously share what they know so that it benefits others.
C = Confident Humble leaders are confident about what they bring to the table. They do not shy from voicing their opinions and don’t get perturbed if people challenge them. They have the mental fortitude required to navigate the trials and tribulations of a workplace and can also take tough decisions when required.
D = Dialogue Humble leaders don’t run away from conflicts. When conflicts happen they use dialogues to resolve them. And they don’t allow conflicts to fester, they try and resolve it immediately across the table.
E = Entitlements Despite their achievements, humble leaders don’t expect to get any special treatment by others. They believe that however big their accomplishment are, they are like any other person. They have their short-comings, they make mistakes and they are not so good in many other things. They also don’t impose their views on others
F=Feedback A humble person regularly reaches out to others for feedback. They treat as a gift for improving their personal effectiveness. The feedback that they gather is from people across just from the people in power. He reaches out to his colleagues, subordinates and those above.
G =Gratitude These individuals are grateful about what they have. For them “glass is half full” and “not half empty”. One thing they never get mired in is negativity. Even in the most dark moments they are generally grateful for what they have. Some of them even keep a gratitude journal.
H = Help Humble leaders don’t shy away from seeking help. They don’t project themselves as an all knowing all accomplished problem-solver. When they don’t know something or are short of resources, they call it out. They firmly believe in that we live in an interconnected world and are inter-dependent on each other where things get done through collaboration and other’s help
I = Ideas Humble leaders actively seek ideas from their employees. They believe and openly declare that they need other’s ideas for workplace success. They believe that irrespective of the hierarchy each employee has unique ideas which can benefit the company. They encourage employees to try out ideas.
J = Judgement Humble leaders don’t make quick judgements. They withhold judgement about other person or any situation till they have not understood the context well. They know that quick judgements could blind them from getting other’s perspectives and taking wrong decisions.
K = Knowledge Despite their domain expertise, humble leaders know that there could still be things that they still don’t know. They also don’t allow to be a victim of curse of knowledge where they close themselves to any new ideas that come on the wat. Not to forget that there are areas beyond your domain that you still need to explore.
L = Largesse Humble leaders pass on the credit to their team members. When things go wrong they take the blame but on being successful, he lets the team to be limelight.
M = Minimalism Humble leaders don’t indulge in conspicuous consumption. They don’t waste money onthings that they don’t require. They try and reduce their possessions to what they require. They believe in the principle of simple living and high thinking. They don’t acquire things to elevate their social standing or to demonstrate their success. This does not mean they become an ascetic. What it means they only buy or possess things that they require.
N = North Star North Star refers to the purpose for which a leader is working for. For humble leaders focusing on the north-star matters more than promoting self. And they know this can be accomplished by focusing on “we” and not “I”.
O =Openness This is about having the openness to say “I don’t know” and even able to change one’s position on deeply held views. It is also about being open to be challenged in areas wherein you are considered an expert.
P = Pride Humble leaders know how to manage pride. Pride is okay but it does not be more than the value of our achievements. It’s okay to have authentic pride which is what we feel when we’re accomplishing our goals and feeling confident about our self-worth. We should shun hubiristic pride which is associated with aggressiveness, low self-esteem, and tendency to falunt our achievements. The latter leads to leads to arrogance. And with arrogance comes indifference and complacence. It makes a person self-centered and he tends to forget those around.
Q = Questions Humble leaders have a curious mind. They ask a lot many questions to know about the people and things world around them. They don’t stop asking questions because they may look foolish. For them questions are way to make sense of the context in which they operate.
R = Respect Humble leaders respect people irrespective of age, sexual-orientation, religion, nationality, social-status or standing in the organisation hierarchy. They value each one’s contribution in their lives however small it may be. They also know that there could something to learn from everyone.
S = Success Humble people don’t allow success to get into their head. They don’t make big deal about it. They know each accomplishments are just a milestone in the one’s life. They do enjoy and celebrate the success but don’t want it to take away their focus from what they have to do next. They also know accomplishments are transitory, He may be successful today but tomorrow he could go wrong and fail.
T = Team For humble leaders, teams are the engines for success. They not only develop them but also empower them fully so that they can carry out their task with full freedom. They also create a psychologically safe environment for them to speak their mind. The encourage free cross-pollination of ideas among the team members that builds a culture of innovation and learning.
U = Unlearning Humble leaders are continuous learners. They always operate from a position of incomplete knowledge. They always look for opportunities to learn from those around. They don’t gloat in what they know but are always exploring newer ideas and concepts to manage the disruptive changes around. What they also know that in the process of learning they have to unlearn many things.
V = Vulnerability Humble leaders know that they are vulnerable. They know they don’t have all the answers. They openly acknowledge when they don’t have an answer and don’t shy off from seeking help. When you share your secret shotcomings you tend to make connections with others.
W = Weakness Humble leaders consciously work on arresting their weaknesses. When a senior manufacturing leader learnt that there were gaps in his financial skills he did shy from taking up a basic finance course with junior staff. And in the class room he did not throw his weight around but behaved like any other students completed all assignment in time and freely collaborated with others on assignments.
X = Xenial Humble leaders are friendly with all. They are not indifferent with anyone. They come across xenial with everyone. They don’t let their positions come in the way and even interact with strangers. They are warm and friendly.
Y =Youthful A humble leader has the youthfulness and energy to pursue organizational goals while taking people along. He also has the wit to laugh upon himself when required
Z = Zoom In When need be humble leaders get down to the trenches, dirty their hands and work with others. For them no work is small or big. When the subordinates know that their boss is ready to work with them in the trenches, they will be ready to do anything for him and will always be loyal.