When you think about leadership traits, typically, what comes to mind are qualities like strength, vision, enthusiasm, charisma, and courage. Often overlooked is an essential leadership trait – humility.
Sometimes leaders get caught up in promoting their success to a point where they appear shallow and self-absorbed. These qualities inspire very few people. However, what does inspire us are people who we can trust and who show humility.
In their paper, ‘Pillars of Cooperation’, Benjamin and Hilbigalngo explore the benefits of being humble in the senior team.
They say, “Humble leaders will use their skills, experience, and knowledge to attract and inspire followers, bring people together and contribute to their community. Such leaders inspire people and align them to their vision. And humility is the core ingredient that every leader should possess and strive for.”
In addition, in his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins found that outstanding leaders had two common traits that transitioned their organisations from average to superior market performance: humility and an indomitable will to advance the cause of the organisation. Most of the CEOs in Collin’s great companies were not household names. They shied away from the limelight, preferring to promote the organisation’s values, purpose and goals.
Jeff Hyman writing in Forbes magazine, said that research studies concluded that humble leaders listen more effectively, inspire great teamwork, and focus everyone (including themselves) on organisational goals.
Hyman quotes a survey of 105 computer software and hardware firms published in the Journal of Management that revealed humility in CEOs led to higher-performing leadership teams, increased collaboration and cooperation and flexibility in developing strategies.
So, why is this unsung leadership quality so important?
Humble leaders understand that they are not necessarily the cleverest person in the room and would never want to be.
They encourage other people to speak up, respect differences and promote the best option. Encouragement like this is an optimal method of solution-focused decision making.
This approach then builds a culture of collaboration and success. Staff will emulate the leader who is humble and puts ego aside. Many good people thrive in this supportive environment and, in turn, travel the road to success.
Benjamin E. Hilbig, Ingo Zettler, Pillars of cooperation: Honesty-Humility, social value orientations, and economic behavior, Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 43, Issue 3, 2009,
Collins, J., 2011. Good to Great. [Place of publication not identified]: HarperCollins.
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