Humility in Leadership; It’s Good to Eat Pie

“If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility”

(The Economist, 26 Jan. 2013)

“People with humility do not think less of themselves, they just think of themselves less often” (The One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard)

In today’s atmosphere of no-holds-barred social media, many assume that great charm, charisma and overt confidence are the hallmarks of great leadership in business. However, experts are now focusing on a little understood emotional skill: humility. Humility is defined by Merriam Webster as “freedom from pride or arrogance; lacking in pretense.”

Humble Pie

Humility doesn’t necessarily mean a person lacks confidence, is weak or unsure. It is a core leadership quality of those who inspire teamwork, learning and performance. A humble leader is secure enough to recognize her weaknesses, eager to improve herself, appreciates the input and strength of others with the focus on end goals beyond self-interest. In research conducted by Bradley Owens, Associate Professor of Business Ethics at Brigham Young University, teams with humble leaders have performed better and produced higher quality work than those who do not exhibit humility.

Companies are starting to take humility into account with new hiring and senior executive promotion decisions. Humility is linked to lower absenteeism and turnover. Employers have found that humility can predict ethical behavior and longer job tenure. Because these people often fly under the radar, companies such as Hogan Assessments are developing workplace tests to screen for this elusive characteristic. They call it the H Factor, a stable personality trait comprised of humility and honesty. It also includes such things as sincerity, modesty, fairness plus the avoidance of manipulation, rule-bending and hypocrisy. Patagonia, the apparel company based in Ventura, CA begins scrutinizing potential hires the minute they walk through the door by asking the receptionists for their initial impression.

Humility must be combined with competency

Humble leaders direct their ego away from themselves toward the larger goal of leading their companies to greatness. These leaders are often a complex mix of intense professional will and extreme personal humility. David Packard, co-founder Hewlitt-Packard epitomized humility. He was a man of the people and shunned publicity. He considered himself a HP man first and CEO second. He said “You shouldn’t gloat about anything you have done; you ought to keep going and find something better to do.”


Do you agree or disagree with these statements?

  1. I appreciate other people’s advice at work.
  2. It’s not my job to applaud others’ achievements.
  3. People lose respect when they admit their limitations.
  4. I am entitled to more respect than the average person.
  5. I do many things better than almost everyone I know.
  6. It annoys me when others ignore my accomplishments.

People high in humility tend to agree with Item 1 and disagree with Items 2 through 6.
Source: Hogan Assessment Systems

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