Are you a Humble Leader?

How many times have you heard those who have won something or those who have been promoted -- likely beyond their competence -- declare that they're humbled?

It's as if they're really saying:

I know I'm truly great and here's the proof. I also know I'm not supposed to crow about it, so my PR people kept reminding me to make a declaration of humility. Because that always goes down well.

More often than not, I suspect the audience sees right through it. In a society that elevates individualism and venerates stardom, me-me-me is at the core of every heartbeat.

I was moved, therefore, to learn that the U.S. Army has recently decided on a new core value. It happens to be humility.

As clinical consultant Corie Withers explained for, the Army is increasingly aware that the very best leaders don't just operate to please their own egos, but "take responsibility when the institution suffers."

I wondered, though, how the Army itself describes humility. Fortunately, Army Doctrine Publication 6-22 offers a detailed explanation.

It starts with a pulsating sentence that every leader should chant daily:

Humility in its simplest form is the absence of arrogance.

There are few business leaders who don't succumb to arrogance at least every few hours. I'm sorry, I meant days. And I'm not specifically referring to Elon Musk here.

For the Army, arrogance involves putting yourself above the needs of the organization. Which doesn't mean humility should represent a constant bowing and scraping toward others. Instead:

A leader with the right level of humility is a willing learner, maintains accurate self-awareness, and seeks out others' input and feedback.

The problem, of course, lies in the accurate self-awareness part. When you're in an era of self-obsession, accurately gauging the truth about yourself is as easy as admitting that someone else really is more talented than you are.

The Army has some suggestions for you. It explains that too much humility can come across as, among other negatives, "blind obedience" and "passivity." How, then, do you know how humble you really aren't? Says the Army:

One's humility is largely determined by other people. It is a subjective perception of the leader. Humility is interpreted differently by different genders and cultures. Individuals need to guard against their biases and assess character based on the whole set of Army Values and attributes.

I wonder how often some business leaders stop to consider what their employees really think. I wonder how often business leaders -- especially those in tech -- really consider their employees' happiness, rather than pandering to them with perks that merely keep those employees tied to their office.

Weathers explains that the notion of humility has incited much debate in military circles. She adds, though, that the Army's leaders see its new focus like this: 

Empower the force by providing members with more autonomy, and model humility by promoting the overall health of the people as the strength of the organization.

The overall health of the people. Not just the coterie of favorites that surrounds the boss.

Could there be a better way of entering a new decade -- one fraught with multilayered dangers -- than by basing the strength of your organization on the health, in all its aspects, of your people?

They might appreciate it. Humbly, of course.

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