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Cultivating a culture of humility in leadership

Leading during the good times of a company seems like a simple job. Truthfully, I’ve learned leading during any time is a tough job, especially if you want to lead well. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that authentic leadership needs one important component: humility. What does humility in leadership look like? 

The trait of humility

A succinct quote from C.S. Lewis sums up humility well: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” To me, that’s exactly what humility in leadership looks like. It’s thinking about your team. When things are going well with your business, it can be hard to remember it’s about every team member. But let’s be honest: your business couldn’t function without those team members. As Harvard Business Review says, leaders need to adopt a servant-leader mindset where a leader encourages and creates opportunities for ownership and responsibility.

Research published by the Journal of Management reinforces my beliefs about humility. The research shows it is not only important as a leader — but it also helps teams perform better and leads to collaboration. Similarly, Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, wrote that humility in leadership was a common trait of successful companies. 

Finding humility in leadership

Is humility an innate trait? Maybe. It seems that humble people are just born that way. But I also believe leaders can challenge themselves to find that humility to become stronger leaders. Here are a few things to consider to get yourself there:

  • Are you asking your team for their opinions and ideas? If you’re not, start doing so immediately. You should be hiring people who have strengths you don’t because they can challenge you to see things differently. Keep in mind that vulnerability is a strength. If you create a space where employees are valued for bringing ideas to the table, your team will feel supported, valued, and confident to perform well.
  • Are you giving credit to those who deserve it? Don’t let your ego get in the way. Especially since great leaders often bring out the best in others. If your team is successful, chances are that you’ve empowered them to get there. Take the time, and every opportunity you can, to let them shine. If that attention starts to get paid toward you as the leader, redirect it when possible. Your team will notice.
  • Are you open to being challenged? I don’t believe good leaders should make a choice and stick to it. I do believe it takes courage to take in new information and grow from it. None of us are fully self-actualized, and there are always opportunities for us to grow into a better version of ourselves. When you are open to others’ input and even weigh their ideas in your decision-making, it shows you truly value your team’s opinions.
  • Are you willing to admit when you’re wrong? We all make mistakes. It’s just a part of being human. Yet so often, leaders are unwilling to say they were wrong. It takes a lot of vulnerability to admit when you’ve made a mistake, so when you do, it shows you’re humble enough to not hide from it.

Bringing humility to the table

It’s easier to be humble when times are good. But if you are committed to being open-minded, take the hard times and use them to learn how to grow. It will be worth it as you and your team push your company to greatness.

Jim Allen is a business leader and entrepreneur who has built one of the top-producing real estate groups in the Triangle. He is President of The Jim Allen Group, which is consistently named one of the top real estate teams in North Carolina and even North America.

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