It’s no secret that executives are often hired based on skills and experience, but fired based on personality. Arrogance, narcissism, and Machiavellianism are factors that we now know regularly precipitate executive failure.” Feder & Sahibzada, 2014.
Humility (the opposite of hubris, or a haughty, nose in the air demeanor), is in short supply. Willingness to learn, to process different perspectives and ultimately to change takes courage. It’s easy to pontificate your respective point of view. According to Moran (2014), great leaders put other people before themselves, instead of engaging in an off-putting ostentatious hot air display. The inverted pyramid of management humility is progression from a “focus on the ‘self’ to the ‘selfless,’” tempering the perception of hard driving and self-serving to a softer, self-effacing persona.
Westwood (2015) suggests that humility in action include: (1) solicitation of new ideas; (2) empathic listening; (3) creation of strong teams; and (4) willingness to risk mistakes. In his words “a mistake is merely a vehicle that carries you closer to a more thoroughly vetted idea and great success.” Dassa (2014) describes an iconic, effective leader as one who engenders consensus making through consultation – in the end, weaving an even tighter company fabric. He advocates active information gathering: “Acknowledging others’ opinions and ideas is not an indication of a lack of competence. Rather, it’s a sign that one is not threatened by the valuable contribution of others.”
Arrogance states: “I’m right you’re wrong;” “I win you lose.” Conversely, other-focus offers an inquiring approach. Stillman (2014) describes humility as “the unexpected trait that moves leaders from good to great” recently corroborated by research (Ou, Tsui, Kinicki, Waldman, Xiao, & Song, 2014). Humility in Ou et al.’s words is comprised of “openness to feedback,” “appreciation of others,” and low “self-focus” as demonstrated by managers who wish to attain solidarity and enhance employees’ self-esteem. Unfortunately, “. . . we’re not taught…to be thoughtful along the way and not neglect and crush others.”
In a similar tack, Lohrenz defines humility not as weakness, but as a people centered approach minus contempt – and humble managers as those who lead others in a self-affirming manner. According to the Harvard Business Review (2014) “Without humility, you are unable to learn,” a statement premised on pan-cultural employee research.
Studies have shown that more satisfied, committed, engaged, and higher performing workers are the result of traditional leadership turned on its head. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, humility makes one real, human, identifiable, a person with whom others feel connected.