Humility = Great Leadership

To develop humility in leadership you have to learn about you and become especially aware of your ego. The ego is your sense of self.  Your boundaries; a feeling of being you. Ego gives all of us definition in the 3-dimensional world:

”This is my body. This is my mind. This is me. These are my preferences, my limits – my, me, mine.”

Ego is a necessary component of human life. It informs you of your choices in the world and it prevents you form being harmed. It gives you the power to act and keeps you feeling independent and strong.  It allows you to value your uniqueness and, when properly tended to and channeled, prepares you for greater service to others.

However, ego is by definition limiting.  Its function is to keep you safe, to contain you. The ego understands only that which it can grasp; “I am safe because I have a house, money, food in the fridge” is typical ego reasoning. Putting security in that which can be seen is what the ego does.  Also the ego thrives on comparison. ”Why does he get that and I don’t?” is a familiar phase from your egos repertoire.

For these reason the ego it finds it easier to generate fixed mindsets.  “When I have X I will be a success.”  “When I have Y I will be more important.” These limitations create rules and belief systems that can make it hard to become a great leader.

Developing your awareness of your ego using the lifecycle tool can lead you to an understanding of the value humility brings to your leadership.

Humility – the quality of having a modest view of one’s importance.

What does Humility add to leadership?

Humility conditions you to listen and to be inquisitive.  If you accept that people are important; what they say must be important, as well as what they don’t say.

Leadership is the study of people in a changing environment.

A recent[1] study showed that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees feel included.

When employees observed selfless behaviour in their managers — a style characterised by:

  • acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes;
  • empowering followers to learn and develop;
  • acts of courage, such as taking personal risks for the greater good;
  • holding employees responsible for results —

they were more likely to report feeling included in their work teams. This was true for both women and men.

Consider what you would need to notice about your ego to open the door to learning from criticism; especially if the critique was coming from a direct report or someone you consider not to be “at your level”.  What do you need to remind yourself?

  • You have a vision and need to learn how to achieve this; or
  • Your core values remind you to respect everyone;
  • Or, the goal you set about building talent means that you need to listen to understand how that person thinks about things.

It takes a wise man to learn from the fool, and a humble man to realise anyone of us can be a fool from time to time.

Share your mistakes and create learning

Great leaders use the occasion of mistakes as an opportunity to tell stores and create new learning or pass along old wisdom.   This practice helps your people learn to learn and develop the skills to do this with their managers or direct reports.

Fear is the enemy of enlightenment.   When we teach people to be afraid we are teaching them to build excuses instead of building knowledge.

Make dialogue possible

As leaders we set the tone for how our organization will handle future problems. If your leadership style encourages your managers to engage in open dialogue instead of point-scoring debates, you will be teaching them to value different points of view.  Managers often focus their energies on winning the argument and not on finding the truth.

Inclusive leaders are humble enough to set their own agendas and beliefs to one side while they listen to the ideas and perspectives that others bring.  By acting in this way they not only enhance their own learning, they validate those they are listening to and they help their team value the unique perspectives each member brings to the table.

Be brave

One on the most powerful statements a leader can make is to say “I don’t know.” This statement will be challenged by your ego. It may have a rule that states “your power and therefore you rights as a leader stem from your ability to know”, therefore when you admit to not knowing you are endangering your power and your rights as a leader.

This is a great opportunity to take an inventory on what you do know and what will generate the most value?

When you realise that you can create more value because

  • you know how to get your team to listen to each other,
  • you know how to help them coalesce and collaborate to find answers,
  • you know how to get them the resources that they will need,
  • or that you know how to manage their egos to get results that are on target;

and what you don’t know is what gives them the space to feel important and involved.


Until you are comfortable with what you know and don’t need to know you will have difficulties creating the space your people need to do their best work.

Once you create this space they get two opportunities that provide them with huge satisfaction:

  • the opportunity to generate
  • the opportunity to take ownership and be responsible

Great leaders know that their legacy will be the leaders they leave behind. They know how important it is to empower others to lead by creating a team environment built on a shared vision, core values and purpose.  Their personal humility allows them to facilitate their managers’ development by modelling how to utilise diversity to create a truly high performance team.



If you are interested in learning more about MGL or how to implement any of our models with your team, please contact or call +1 203 253 2836.

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