What Is Humble Leadership And Why Does Your Business Need It?

What do you picture when you think of a great business leader? You might use words like “bold,” “strong personality,” “charisma,” “self-confidence,” and “visionary genius.” Putting it another way, humble leadership may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, research conducted by the Wall Street Journal indicates that one of the most important leadership qualities of effective managers is, surprisingly, humility.

This article explores the concept of humble leadership and why integrating this trait into your leadership style can lead to profound changes. Expect insights into the advantages and how they positively affect your organization’s culture, promoting trust, collaboration and a relentless pursuit of improvement.

But first, here is Jeff Eggers discussing humble leadership at the Roll-Right-In Podcast. It’s a nice companion piece to the article:

What is Humble Leadership & Why Does Your Business Need It?

For small businesses, humble leadership is more than just a nice have; It is an essential ingredient for success. In environments where resources are limited, and every team member’s contribution is critical, a leader’s humility can foster a culture of open communication, innovation and resilience.

Humble leadership in small businesses encourages employees to speak up with their ideas and concerns, knowing they will be heard and valued. This openness can lead to innovative solutions that might otherwise be overlooked in a more hierarchical or ego-driven setting.

What’s more? Humble leaders in small businesses are adept at recognizing and utilizing the strengths of each team member, compensating for their own weaknesses. This can lead to a more efficient and effective team, where tasks are assigned based on skill and aptitude rather than rank or tenure. Such a strategy is crucial for small businesses that need to be agile and responsive to changing market conditions.

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Additionally, by putting the team first and prioritizing the business’s culture, humble leaders can create a loyal and motivated workforce. This trait is particularly important for small businesses that may not be able to compete with larger corporations in terms of salaries or benefits. A positive work environment, characterized by mutual respect and shared goals, can be a significant draw for top talent and can help retain employees longer.

What Humble Leadership Looks Like

What does humble leadership mean, and how can you bring a spirit of humility to your business? Here are a few bits of “humble advice.”

Pay Attention to Your Own Weaknesses

humble leadership - pay attention to your weaknesses (1)

Humble leaders tend to have a strong level of self-awareness of their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities. They don’t beat themselves up about it, but they know that they’re not always going to be the smartest person in the room, and they don’t expect to be the best at everything. When leaders understand their weaknesses, they can be better at delegating, bringing in outside expertise, exploring different perspectives, and avoiding impulsive decisions.

Ask for Advice (and Listen)

Humble leaders aren’t afraid to ask for advice, and more importantly, they listen to the advice. They are eager to hear from diverse stakeholders and voices from all levels of the organization; they don’t assume that good ideas and smart solutions can only come from the executive ranks.

Delegate to Others

pay attention to your weaknesses (1) leader delegating tasks to his team

Humble leaders don’t micromanage, and they don’t take on more than they can handle. They trust their team to do their jobs, and they are eager to delegate tasks and create new opportunities for others. The humblest leaders tend to exude a sense of calm — instead of being overwhelmed, they are quietly, capably captaining a ship with lots of moving parts and all hands on deck. But because they’re able to delegate, these leaders can move calmly through the storms around them — they have time and mental space to evaluate their high-level strategic options and guard against risks and threats.

Share the Credit, Hoard the Blame

humble leadership - photo of kknuckles of 4 businesspeople touching over the table.

Humble leaders are eager to share the credit. They’re constantly praising their team and deflecting praise off of themselves and onto their people. Humble leaders are happy to see their employees get promoted or even recruited by other organizations; they consider it a compliment to their own leadership skills when good people rise through the ranks, and they are happy to create a successful culture that nurtures and develops top talent.

On the flip side, humble leaders are also eager to take more than their share of the blame when things go wrong or when well-intentioned plans don’t work out. They take responsibility for their team, good and bad.

Put the Team First

humble leadership - Leader meeting with her team at a conference table

In all that they do, humble leaders elevate the interests of the team above their own self-interest and ego. They’re more concerned with building a great culture than winning an award or seeing their name in the news headlines. They are happy when their employees are happy. They feel proud when their employees win accolades. And they see the team and the culture that they are building around them as more important than their own individual success – they believe that if you know how to hire, develop, and retain the right people, and surround them with the right teamwork, support and encouragement, that winning culture will deliver more value for the company than any individual achievement.

Comparison Table: Traits of Humble Leadership

This table aims to contrast the actions and beliefs of humble leaders with some common leadership practices without intending to imply that all traditional leaders lack these positive qualities.

Leadership TraitsHumble LeadershipTraditional Leadership
Self-awarenessRecognizes their own weaknesses; doesn't expect to be the best at everything.May have blind spots regarding personal weaknesses; expects to be a top performer.
Seeking adviceRegularly asks for advice and listens actively to feedback from all levels of the organization.Might feel threatened by others' advice or believes that leadership should have all answers.
DelegationTrusts the team, delegates tasks, and gives opportunities to others.Tends to micromanage or shoulder too many responsibilities on their own.
Credit and BlameShares credit generously and takes the blame when things go wrong.Might take most of the credit for successes and deflect blame when things don't go as planned.
Prioritizing the TeamAlways puts the team first; focuses on building a positive culture over personal accolades.Might prioritize personal success or recognition over the well-being or success of the team.
Reaction to Team Members' AchievementsCelebrates when team members achieve success, even if they surpass or leave the leader.May feel threatened or overshadowed by the achievements of team members.

Embracing Humility: The Path to Retaining Talent and Boosting Productivity

Humble leadership is not just a trait; it’s a powerful strategy for businesses that aim to retain top talent and foster a culture of innovation and collaboration. Recognizing the immense value that humility brings to leadership can transform your organization in various ways.

  • Employee Retention: Talented professionals gravitate toward leaders who value and respect them. When leaders are humble, employees feel more valued, leading to increased loyalty and reduced turnover.
  • Fostering Teamwork: Humility paves the way for open communication, understanding, and a sense of unity. Teams thrive in an environment where their contributions are recognized and their opinions matter.
  • Boosted Productivity: When employees feel supported and listened to, they are more motivated to give their best. A humble leader ensures that each team member’s potential is fully harnessed, leading to heightened productivity.
  • Self-Reflection: Take a moment to introspect. Consider feedback, be open to criticism, and continuously assess your behavior to ensure it aligns with humble leadership.
  • Adjustment in Management Style: Transitioning from a command-and-control style to one of guidance, support, and empowerment can be challenging but reaps rich dividends in team cohesion and output.
  • Creating a Supportive Work Environment: Focusing on creating an environment where employees feel safe, heard, and motivated can lead to increased innovation, dedication, and job satisfaction.
  • Balancing Effort with Reward: The journey towards adopting a humbler leadership style demands effort. Yet, the long-term benefits – from employee satisfaction and retention to improved business outcomes – make this endeavor highly rewarding.

The Takeaways

For small businesses, the importance of humble leadership transcends mere preference—it emerges as a strategic imperative. This approach to leadership cultivates a robust, cooperative team that is well-equipped to tackle challenges, capitalize on opportunities, and propel the business ahead, united by a common goal and a shared commitment. If your aim is to foster excellent teamwork, accelerate learning, and elevate individual performance within your team, embracing humble leadership is key.

By recognizing the pivotal role that humility plays in leadership and actively striving to incorporate this quality into your management style, you set the stage for a work environment that is both collaborative and focused on achieving tangible results. This nurturing of a humble leadership ethos ensures that your small business not only survives but thrives, marked by a culture of mutual respect, continuous improvement, and collective success.

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Al Davidson Al Davidson founded Strategic Sales & Marketing, Inc. in 1989, where he helps deliver B2B lead generation and appointment setting solutions for clients around the world. Under his leadership, the company has generated over 7 million sales leads, resulting in millions of dollars to his clients.

2 Reactions
  1. Taking the blame doesn’t have to be such a negative experience. Many times in my career I’ve made mistakes. Admitting the mistake is easily half the battle, but once you’ve done that part, move on and determine a fix. If you can do that you’ll repair the relationship a vast majority of the time.

  2. Having a humble leader motivates your employees to work more productively. So it is important to continue to be humble despite your position.