Can We Teach Leaders Humility?

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less” –C. S. Lewis

I’m alarmed by the humility deficit in many leaders.  Why do we reinforce, recognize and promote the brazen and arrogant, over the humble?  Why do we teach our teams to cater to executives as celebrities?

I’m always in awe of the truly humble–those consistently making enormous sacrifices and deflecting the credit.  The most humble leaders are great spiritual teachers.

Is humility teachable?  

Apparently yes. I’m audacious enough to write a post on teaching humility.  Let me add a caveat.  I don’t have humility handled.

Truly humble leaders don’t try to impress us with titles, credentials, or accomplishments.  They pull out the best in us. Or as Max Brown wrote in The Character-Based Leader,

“Humility isn’t timidity or weakness.  It is confidence, wisdom and grace combine with an acknowledgement that we are all imperfect.”

5 Ways To Teach Humility

1. Build Confidence:  Often what passes for arrogance is actually fear.   Some leaders attempt to “humble” other leaders or “put them in their place” through public criticism or embarrassment.  This tactic actually has the opposite impact.  We need leaders who are confident enough to not need to talk about it.http://letsgrowleaders.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/karin-8-copy-300×300.jpg

2. Teach the Art of Great Questions:  
Teach the art of provocative questions.   Teach the power of pause.  Ask your own questions “what does your team think about this idea?”  “Who did you involve in this decision?”

3. Get Them Out of Their Comfort Zone:  Give them a stretch assignment  or project in an area they know nothing about.  I can tell you from experience, nothing is more humbling than being clueless.  Put them in arenas where they must rely on their team or peers to be successful.

4. Give them tools to manage their blind spots:  Do a 360 assessment.  Give them a coach.  Encourage your team to surface and work through their own conflicts.

5. Model it

  • Be a servant leader
  • Admit when you are wrong
  • Coach privately
  • Recognize, honor and reward humble behaviors on teams, as ironic as this sounds.  Minimize desire for folks to “toot their own horn” by tooting it for them.
  • Reject special treatment, even when it’s convenient.  Live by the same rules and standards you expect your team to uphold.