Photo by Matthew Kosloski on Unsplash
I've been curious for awhile about the correlation between humility and leadership. Do successful leaders tend to be more humble? Do they value humility? What conditions and environments tend to reward humble leaders?
Pelin Kesebir, an Assistant Scientist at UW's Center for Healthy Minds, has been exploring humility and how it connects to well-being. Kesebir "likens humility to a fertile soil in which happiness grows." And she defines humility as "the ability to see oneself in true perspective and be at peace with it."
I like this definition. Often, we see humility as a weakness. But like vulnerability, as unpacked in Brene Brown's work, humility can be a strength.
Research shows that humility correlates positively with social relationships. Interestingly, both self-reported and peer acknowledged humility help foster quality relationships.
And humility seems to translate to business relationships, and to the effectiveness of leaders. According to a 2014 Catalyst study, "humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included."
There's actually quite a bit of research and field work on humility and leadership. This Washington Post piece does a nice job summarizing it.
1) true humility is strong rather than meek;
2) intellectually humble people often perform better on novelty and academic tasks;
3) humble people are often more fair and generous;
4) leaders who display high humility frequently put an organization's needs ahead of their own;
5) humble leaders can have less employee turnover and higher employee satisfaction.
In 2015, researchers Owens and Hekman offered in the Academy of Management Journal, “Our findings suggest that humility appears to embolden individuals to aspire to their highest potential and enables them to make the incremental improvements necessary to progress toward that potential.”
I love this. Humility can free us to pursue our greatest potential—and highest impact.
How does this resonate? Do you tend to lead with strong humility? Does your organization reward humble leadership? Do you feel equipped to see yourself in "true perspective" while also pursuing growth? And might you take further steps to nurture a humble, curious, others-oriented mindset as you foster your leadership journey?
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Steve Semelsberger is the Founder of Alder Growth Partners.