With Remembrance Day this week in Canada and around the world I have been thinking about leadership in the military and what we can learn from the great military leaders. It seems any time I read an article or hear a US Navy Seal interviewed about leadership, the word ‘humility’ comes up. When you think of classic military style leadership as portrayed in the movies, you often think of masculine, dominant, and authoritarian characteristics of a leader. Humility is probably not the first leadership trait which comes to mind when you think of the military but for these elite soldiers, humility is an essential quality of an outstanding leader.
There is a common misunderstanding that humble leaders may lack confidence or may not be able to motivate others. In fact, humble leaders willingly admit both their strengths and weaknesses, have a high level of self-confidence, and are appreciative of others’ strengths. As a leader, displaying humility is one of the key ways in commanding team respect and convincing them to follow you. Think of a person in a leadership position who lacks humility. Now think about your respect level for that person.
The journal Administrative Science published research in 2014, which showed “that bold and assertive leaders who lack genuine concern for others undermine their influence on subordinates.” They also discovered leaders’ humility gains acceptance from their team by appealing to the interests of the team and restraining their own ego.
Humility doesn’t mean a leader is lacking confidence or is a pushover, the opposite in fact. Here are 7 ways great leaders show humility:
1. GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
When teams achieve great successes, the accolades usually fall on the leader. After all, they are the head of the team. But humble leaders deflect credit given to them, to their team or to outstanding individual performances.
2. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MISTAKES
Just as a leader represents the team in successful times, they also represent them in challenging and even catastrophic times. A humble leader will admit mistakes and take responsibility for their team’s actions. They protect individual team members by absorbing the blame when mistakes have been made. President Obama is often in this role as a leader of the most powerful military in the world. Just last month, he took on responsibility for the horrific US military bombing of a ‘Doctors without Borders’ hospital in Afghanistan.
3. LEAD FROM THE BACK
Listen and provide leadership opportunities to your team members. Leading from the back allows you to gain a big picture perspective. It requires you to do much more listening than talking. Be the last to speak on topics in a meeting and don’t take on every leadership opportunity. Share the responsibilities with team members who are ready to step up to the challenge.
4. MEET THEM HALFWAY
Leaders often get frustrated when team members don’t think and act like them. The frustration only leads to diminishing respect from both parities. Instead, to gain their respect and perspective, leaders can meet their team members halfway. This may mean picking your battles to address behaviors you don’t agree with but are not affecting the team. Learn about and show interest in their passions and skills.
5. SEEK OUT FEEDBACK
Feedback is a two-way street and team members need to hear you ask for it and more importantly, react to it. Too often leaders only get feedback and feedforward (read about feedforward) from their supervisors or board of directors.
6. WILLING TO RELEASE CONTROL
Humble leaders release their inner control freak. They seek out opportunities to empower their team members for releasing control on certain projects and decisions. Once they release control, they don’t try to take it back and accept the decisions made.
7. DO THE DIRTY WORK
Every now and then, a leader should get in and do the ‘scut work’ with their team. There may be no faster way to gain respect than helping out with the menial and tedious work that needs to be completed for the team to reach its goal.
It can take remarkable courage to lead with humility in a world of constant self-promotion and the loudest voice often being the only one heard. In no way should a selfless leader be mistaken for a weak one. Leaders who lack strong egos are able to reduce status differences and gain trust among status-seeking groups.
Leadership is not a sprint. It is a marathon, which lasts a lifetime, and those who lead with humility will stay in front the longest and have the strongest supporting cast backing them up.
Action: This week show humility as a leader by asking for feedback from someone on your team who rarely or has never given you feedback.
Until next week… Embrace the Adventure!
Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author, Ironman competitor, and expedition guide.
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