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Can Leaders Cultivate Humility?

Successful leaders are often an odd blend of ego and humility. Arguably, they need both – the one to move boldly and┬ácourageously, the other to stay alert for potential errors and to avoid overwhelming others. For most leaders I’ve known over the past 30 years, the hubris came easily. Their challenge was to learn to cultivate humility. Here are some tips.

  • Be curious: Welcome other points of view, then ask why? In what ways might the other person be right? In what ways might you be wrong?
  • Remember Mike and Babe: Michael Jordan missed over 9000 shots during his career. Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times and successfully hit only 34 times per hundred at bats. Do you really think you can bat 1.000? Just know you’ll be wrong often, and right now might be one of those times.
  • Celebrate being wrong: Congrats! You just learned something and will be better next time.
  • Remember you are not your decisions: Just because you’re not always right does not mean you’re a bad person.
  • Focus on the war, not the battle: It’s OK to lose some. Keep your eye on the prize. If you need to win every battle, chances are you’ll surround yourself with sycophants who fear to challenge you. The good folks who might be able to help you will move on to more engaging opportunities.
  • Allow for losses: Does your balance sheet have a line for bad credit? If not, studies suggest you’re playing it too safe. If you don’t let yourself get ripped off occasionally, you’re not maximizing sales and profits. Now carry the metaphor to decision-making.

In the end, it comes to this. You’re going to make mistakes. Get over it. Or rather, embrace it. For all your smarts and drive, you’re made of the same stuff as every other person. Recognize the basic humanity in everyone and spend time serving others. Practice giving. You’ll feel lighter. And more humble. And become a better leader.

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