Humility: An often under rated leadership quality that is truly next level.
Here’s a true story illustrating servant leadership about what Muhammad Ali did on a plane trip one day…….
The plane Muhammed Ali was a passenger on was going through some pretty rough turbulence so, the Captain turned the seatbelt sign on. Mr Ali however, ignored the request.
One of the flight attendants came and asked him to buckle his seatbelt.
Mr Ali replied,
“Superman don’t need no seatbelt.”
To which she responded,
“Superman don’t need no plane.”
It was a damn cool and quick-thinking flight attendant that kept one of the greats in check and following safety protocol despite his famous ego! And it’s ego, or rather lack of, that I want to highlight the importance of today, if you want to ensure you’re leading at your maximum potential and getting the best performance from your people.
If we think about it, the leaders we actually work hard for and like being under the leadership of, are the ones who in fact have Humility in spades, not ego.
In general, Humility is given a pretty bad wrap by the media. Humble people are often portrayed as a “soft”, bumbling pushover, but in reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Take for instance some of the well-known leaders of our time – Mother Teresa, George Washington, Nelson Mandela, Warren Buffet, Ghandi, – they got some serious stuff done but did it humbly. Not a push over among them and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Look up leaders who lead with Humility and you’ll see a long list.
The author C.S Lewis, put it perfectly when he described Humility as
“Not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
Here’s another true story that I read recently, about Sam Rayburn, (who served as the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the United States Congress for seventeen years and was third in the line to the Presidency, i.e. a very powerful man), that really challenged me and is an example of pure Humility:
One day, Sam learned that the teenage daughter of a reporter friend had died in a tragic accident. Early the very next morning, he called by his friend’s house. When his friend answered the door, Sam asked if there was anything he could do. His friend, shocked and grieving replied, “I don’t think there is anything you can do. We’re making all the arrangements.”
“Well, have you had your coffee this morning?” Sam asked.
“No. We haven’t had time” replied his friend.
“Well,” the Speaker of the House replied, “I can at least make the coffee.”
As the father watched his friend, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, make him coffee, he suddenly remembered something. “Mr. Speaker, I thought you were supposed to be having breakfast at the White House this morning.”
“Well I was, but I called the President and told him I had a friend who was in trouble, and I couldn’t come.”
Sam Rayburn cancelled breakfast with the President of the United States to make coffee for his grieving friend.
When your focus is on others rather than self, this is when your leadership truly goes to the next level, and this is what servant leadership is all about. Countless studies show this statement rings true every time. And why wouldn’t it – when people take the time to care for you and put you ahead of themselves, it’s usually a very pleasant surprise and they go up in your estimation, and your sense of loyalty and admiration for them grows way over for those who don’t. Leaders who have Humility and who don’t just rely on their charisma and success, like Sam Rayburn, are incredibly more effective and influential than those who aren’t.
A highly effective way of putting your team first before yourself is to give them opportunities to grow and to shine.
Are you putting your trust in them to solve problems by themselves without your input?
Do you send them to courses to further their skills?
Are you letting them do the more challenging or more visible or “glamorous jobs within the business, and not just keeping them for yourself, to grow their skills and give them some limelight and succession within the business?
Are you really sharing the limelight for team accomplishments or do you take all the credit?
Are you fostering a culture of collaboration where everyone is encouraged to contribute and all ideas are respected – or do you just tell people what they’re going to do with no opportunity at all for discussion and feedback?
Another powerful way to display Humility is to ensure you acknowledge the contributions your people make to your business, as you can’t build your business on your own! Public and private praise and acknowledgement of everyone’s contribution to the business, from cleaning the office, to buying the toilet paper and biscuits, to answering the phone, to managing a difficult team member, to doing an impressive job for a client or winning new business. There are countless contributions your people make every day, and all of which help get to where you are today and to where you want to go.
When was the last time you truly thanked your people, one on one and as a team, for the great job they’re doing and tell them how much you appreciate it?
How often do you do it?
A great act of humility is to ensure you don’t make your team do anything you wouldn’t do. If your people have to work on the weekend, or work late to get something completed, make sure you’re there too, no excuses, even if you just buy the dinner. Or if there’s a difficult client, don’t palm them off to another person in the team for example.
Are you ensuring you’re doing the harder, less desirable jobs (even cleaning the toilet if needs be), and working alongside your team in the easy stuff as well as the harder tasks?
The last example of Humility I want to leave with you today is Transparency. Effective and humble leaders are transparent with their key people, sharing their own failures, fears and weaknesses – it makes you so much more real and relatable as the leader. (But, you must be wise with how much you share and, whom you share this with.)
It’s extremely powerful when you give your people insight into you, that you trust them enough to share your vulnerabilities as the leader, but it’s also a powerful example to your people when they see you push through your fears and you learn from your mistakes, just as you’d like them to do for themselves.
When my mentor Jim, a highly successful man in many, many regards, humbled himself and shared with me his own fears and failures, but also what he’d learnt from them and how he moved forward, not only did he go up in my estimation, it drew me closer to him and I trusted and followed him more. I’m assuming this is what you’d like your own team to do too.
What can you be more transparent about with your key people?
Do you appreciate it when others share their weaknesses and fears with you?
Do you admit your mistakes and apologise when necessary?
Humility grows your influence as the leader – people respect and value Humility, and when you couple it with success, it’s a very powerful combination. The greater your success, the more powerful your Humility becomes leading your people and the more people want to follow you. Ego and pride and lack of Humility will have the opposite effect and will see your people get tired of you and disengage with your leadership. Not something you’re after I’m thinking.
What do you need to have more Humility about?
Is your team being drawn to you due to your Humility?
Thank you for taking the time to read my article on servant leadership. I hope that you’re enjoying this series on Servant Leadership and that it’s stimulating and agitating your thinking, as it is mine.
I trust it helps you build your leadership strength so you can live a better life! Keep climbing!
I talk further about this in my book, “The Dream Is Everything”.
If you’d like to receive a FREE e-copy, (RRP $24.95), click here.
In case you missed it, here’s part 1 of my Servant Leadership Series.