We often think humility implies weakness and a lack of confidence. But humility is neither weak nor timid.
British author C.S. Lewis once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” Lewis knew that humility is a reflection of empathy — some experts consider empathy the most essential leadership skill.
Putting yourself in others’ shoes takes courage. It isn’t easy to admit to yourself others see or know things you don’t, and much less admitting those things to others.
That’s why humble leaders make teams more productive: They know when to let someone with more expertise in the relevant area take the reins. The humble leader has a growth mindset and willingness to serve, and they inspire other members of the team to do the same. Ask yourself how you can be a better leader — and cultivate humility? Try these nine tips:
1. Listen more.
Leadership requires listening just as much as it does speaking. By listening more, you capture your team’s best ideas. Sharing ideas boosts collaboration, teamwork, and innovation. These are the attributes of highly productive teams.
Show you’re listening with small signs that you care about those around you. Remember, people’s names and stories. Choose gifts related to their interests. Say something if they seem stressed.
2. Ask more questions.
Asking questions is related to listening, but there’s a significant difference: Questions reveal gaps in knowledge, giving others a chance to fill them. That boosts their confidence, but it also promotes curiosity and builds bonds.
By asking more questions, you arrive at better answers more quickly. Those answers could improve the office culture, help you iterate on a product, or better serve your customers.
3. Ask for help.
It’s difficult to ask for help. However, not doing so when it’s necessary lets anxieties fester, which makes time management more difficult. Poor time management can hurt productivity and team morale.
Be direct: Say, “Can you help me?” Most people instinctively want to help.
Requests that recognize others’ abilities make it easier for them to say yes. Take the time to word your request for help in a way that recognizes someone’s expertise and skill. Point to a specific task you’d like their help with.
4. Empower others.
It’s not enough to ask others for help; it’s just as important to ask what help they need from you.
Once you’ve given that support, clear the way for them to do the work. You can’t do everything yourself. If you try, you may lose connections, and your team members may stop sharing ideas with you.
5. Be open to feedback.
Humble leaders not only give feedback to their team members, but they also accept feedback in return. They thank the person who gave them feedback, even if it’s hard to hear.
Being open to feedback is challenging because it leaves us open and vulnerable. On the other hand, the willingness to accept input encourages other people to connect with you.
When you encourage others to give you feedback, you learn about your own strengths. Just as importantly, you start to see where you’re making mistakes.
6. Admit your mistakes.
Like humility, many business people see admitting mistakes as a weakness. In reality, everyone makes mistakes; the people who grow and move past errors are strong enough to admit them.
Admitting mistakes is a five-step process:
What went wrong? What was your part in it? Be specific and thoughtful of others.
Learn from it.
What lesson did the mistake teach you? How are you going to apply it?
Not all mistakes can be fixed. If the error can be fixed — do what you can to make it right. Making something right might be as simple as saying “I’m sorry” or as complicated as rebuilding a relationship. Also, a humble leader recognizes when someone else is trying to fix interpersonal issues. The humble leader will have enough guts to let the other person “off” without holding a personal grudge against them. (Not holding a grudge also shows maturity and growth.)
There’s no reason to hold onto fear or guilt. Give yourself some grace.
The world is more significant than your mistake. Often, others don’t even remember that you made it. Forget it, and move on.
When you accept responsibility for your mistakes, your staff will do the same. That gives you the chance to correct errors as quickly as possible with the fewest possible adverse effects.
7. Recognize others’ accomplishments.
Everyone on the team plays a role in its success. When an individual — or the entire team — notches a win, point it out. Be loud about it. Public recognition is one of the best ways to reward good behavior.
Take time, too, to reflect privately. Thinking about others’ accomplishments helps you be self-aware of your own. Your journal is a great place to do it.
8. Be a servant-leader.
Management and leadership expert Robert Greenleaf coined the term “servant leadership” in 1970. This leadership style promotes community and shared decision-making. Humble leaders are, by their nature, servant leaders.
To leverage this strength, focus on people rather than work processes. When individual members have the support they need, the whole team becomes stronger.
9. Practice good time management.
Humble people recognize their own limitations. They know that they only get so much time on a given day to accomplish their goals. Using a calendar is a great way to remind yourself of that.
Share your calendar with other members of the team. Humble leaders know transparency builds trust and helps teams work more effectively together. Use color-coding to separate different types of activities and to clarify your availability.
In our culture, there’s a lot of pressure to be perfect. Great leaders rise above that: They know there’s no such thing as perfect, so we all might as well show our true selves. You sacrifice your ego when you make the determination to be humble. Working to be humble can take some effort if you are not used to keeping this concept in your mind. But what you gain — happiness, productivity, authenticity, and more — is even better.