One of the best bosses I ever worked for was calm, patient and a great listener. He was also humble. He wasn’t humble in a self-deprecating Woody-Allen, sort of way. I can imagine that even if he just ran the football across the end zone in a game winning run he would never have done an end zone dance. He was the kind of guy that would pat everyone else on the back and never take credit for one iota of effort. He had the secret, elusive sauce which is difficult to find in most managers; he had humility in spades.
I have encountered many managers that are more like strutting peacocks. They’ve got their feathers out and want to make sure they get noticed by everyone. They take credit for all the wins and none of the losses. They are quick to make demands, dictate the outcomes and prescribe all tasks. These types of managers tend to be more about their agenda and closed off to input from the riff raff who actually have their hands on the product. They start believing their own delusions of grandeur and over valuing input from those hanging onto their coattails (otherwise known as brown-nosers).
So how do you foster humility? Here are some ways to get a hold of the secret sauce:
1. Admit. Make sure you admit your mistakes. I’ve seen managers spend an inordinate amount of time trying to cover up or search to find the culprit. Any culprit. Someone to peg the budget shortfall on or the loss of a big account. If you want a politically mired organization that has everyone pointing fingers, then don’t admit your mistakes. If, on the other hand, you want folks to trust you and respect you, be sure to admit your mistakes. Being perfect is way over rated. Admit your mistakes.
2. Even. Keep yourself on an even keel. No one likes reporting to a drama queen unless it’s RuPaul. If your direct reports are unsure of who might show up today: Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde then you are unpredictable and that makes you difficult to work for. Humble leaders roll with the punches and inspire respect. People aren’t worried that the ship is going to sink just because we took on a little water, because you are sitting at the helm, confident and calm. Keep an even keel.
3. Open. Be open to all information. You don’t need to know all things to be a great leader. Humble leaders can say, “I don’t know”. I see this a lot in newly promoted leaders. They feel like they were promoted because they had all the answers, so therefore, they must have all the answers at all times or they are a fraud. I know you are in a difficult spot to prove yourself but your direct reports will have your back if you can admit you don’t know. Don’t be a know it all.
4. Them. It’s about your direct reports and making them shine. Selflessly promote those that are performing for you. You should be spanning the organization (and maybe even outside the organization) for growth opportunities for your direct reports. There are many managers in my past who went to the mat for me to either get me promotions or stretch assignments or money. I would go through fire for them. Leaders who look out for their flock, have life long advocates and trusted friends they can count on. You can never go wrong by watching out For and developing your team.
5. Listen. Listen without an agenda. Listen to all the ideas, the issues, the hiccups and the wins. It’s easy to dismiss some crazy idea for a purple squirrel catcher, but hear them out. Ask open ended questions to drill down. I love this quote “Speak in such a way that others love to listen to you. Listen in such a way that others love to speak to you.” – Unknown. If there is one talent a humble leader has it’s being a great listener. Listen to understand.
6. Hype. Don’t believe the hype. I can remember being a recently promoted manager when I was in the restaurant business. It’s easy to start thinking you can do no wrong and either resting on your laurels, or worse, resting on your team’s laurels. If we had record breaking sales on Mother’s Day (THE biggest restaurant day of the year), you need to celebrate it with your team and then, get back to work. Pull your weight. Show up and do the work.
7. Space. Make space for others to contribute. This involves delegation but also empowerment and collaboration as well. As Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock says ““Your end goal, is what we can do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.” You haven’t dropped it but you are giving your folks latitude to go in new directions. This is the opposite of micro management for all you “fixers” out there. I know it’s tough, but let go and give some space.
I find it troubling that when you look up synonyms for humility, there are a lot of words that speak to weakness. I don’t think that is true. In fact, a humble leader is one who is confident enough to not have to prove it every day. They can stand back and help others blossom.