Let’s say you really like football, up to the point that you consider the best football players to be “warriors” and the like. You view the whole thing as a complex allegory for war, so the most successful coaches are true “generals” and real leaders, and sheesh, they don’t take anything from anyone. No sissy stuff here! Now let’s say you think that’s how you need to be at work — if I’m a general, the feeling goes, people shall follow me, and all will be glorious — and you come in blazing like gangbusters.<
Maybe that’s a bad idea.
See, you might put yourself in the dreaded 82 percent of bad managers, but more importantly, we now seem to have a clearer research-led understanding that humility is essential to being a good leader. While it seems counter-intuitive to some — being “a warrior” makes you a good leader, right? That’s how it worked with guys like Patton, no? — in reality, it makes a lot of sense.
At most jobs, you need to achieve things within team structures. You can get more out of a team if they’re invested in you, and you can do that by legitimately connecting with them where they’re at (an aspect of humility, but also an aspect of good listening, which is another often-rare skill).
Catalyst did a study involving 1,500 employees in six different countries and found these traits across all six — and remember, some of these countries were very different in their basic cultural and political set-up (yet these traits resonated in their workplaces):
- The more included employees felt, the more innovative they reported being in their jobs.
- The more included employees felt, the more they reported engaging in team citizenship behaviors—going above and beyond the “call of duty” to help other team members and meet workgroup objectives.
- Perceiving similarities with coworkers engendered a feeling of belongingness while perceiving differences led to feelings of uniqueness.
Basically, you want to create an inclusive place where mistakes are a learning experience, not a dagger over your head for firing. In fact, there’s this via HBR:
Share your mistakes as teachable moments. When leaders showcase their own personal growth, they legitimize the growth and learning of others; by admitting to their own imperfections, they make it OK for others to be fallible, too. We also tend to connect with people who share their imperfections and foibles — they appear more human, more like us. Particularly in diverse workgroups, displays of humility may help to remind group members of their common humanity and shared objectives.
A sharing culture? We know a few things about that.
The bigger bottom line here is this, and it’s something we’ve discussed several times on our blog: In the modern knowledge economy, the real competitive advantage is shifting from “lowest cost of production” to “really understanding what makes your employees tick.”
So remember this: Humility is important in leaders, despite what you may seem to observe from sports and action movies.