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Humility As A Leadership Skill

Sometimes you find the best leadership advice at times, and in places, you least expect it.

Fascinated by American history, I read a book that outlines the philosophy of the Lakota nation. In “Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living,” we read about values that shaped the lives of the Lakota people, including perseverance, respect, honor, love, sacrifice, truth, compassion, bravery, fortitude, generosity, humility, and wisdom. Each chapter focuses on one of those values and shares a powerful story from the Lakota tradition related to each.

The stories that related to humility reminded me of just how significant that value is to managers who want to be effective leaders.

The book’s author, Joseph Marshall, shares this, “The burden of humility is light because a truly humble person divests himself or herself of the need for recognition. The burden of arrogance, on the other hand, grows heavier day by day. In sharing the journey of life, travel with the humble person on the quiet path.”

Old school managers were big on bravado. They would rather intimidate than listen. As the adage says, when they said “jump,” your only response could be, “how high?”  They may have thought that they were effective, but if they were considered successful, it was only out of fear.

The same is true for members of the Lakota tribe. As Marshall writes, “Humility was a virtue that the Lakota of old expected their leaders to possess. A quiet, humble person, we believed, was aware of other people and other things. An arrogant, boastful man was only aware of himself. Interestingly, our methods of selecting leaders today seem to favor the arrogant and boastful.”

Why is humility so important?

You are admitting that you don’t know everything, and the input of your colleagues is important and required. Employees feel comfortable speaking up so that the best ideas can emerge.

An article in Forbes explained the importance.  “A humble leader is secure enough to recognize his or her weaknesses and to seek the input and talents of others. By being receptive to outside ideas and assistance, creative leaders open up new avenues for the organization and their employees.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “A great man is always willing to be little.”

Here are some of the characteristics that we should strive for if we seek to be humble leaders.

They aren’t power-hungry. They share status and encourage others.

Humble leaders reward a collaborative spirit.

They share credit instead of pretending that success is only about them

Humble leaders are trustworthy and don’t make promises they can’t keep.

They trust their employees and don’t believe in micromanaging.

When they are wrong, they admit it and don’t cover up their shortcomings.

They have confidence in themselves, but they don’t need to tell you how good they are.

Humble leaders never use their position for personal gain.

They believe in being kind and respectful of others no matter their rank in life.

Humility may not be the most important trait that they teach in business schools, but just like the Lakota people, it serves true leaders well.


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