One of my recent assignments was to research humility in leadership. From my research, I identified traits of a humble leader. Over the next few posts, I will share some of the research with you.

Traits of a Humble Leader

             “Practicing simple humble behaviors makes good leaders into great leaders” (Hayes & Comer, 2011, p. 13). The realization of humble leaders helping make organizations effective became more popular with the description of the Level 5 Leader by Jim Collins (2001). Much of what has been written on humility since Collins’ book Good to Great was not based on empirical studies (Morris et al., 2005). Because of limited empirical research in the area of humility in organizational leadership, it increases the importance of determining a construct of humility by listing the traits of a humble leader.

From synthesizing writings on the traits of humility, there was a theme of traits described. Traits of a humble organizational leader are an ability to understand complexities of the organization, to ask the right questions, to connect to others around them, to be open and authentic, and to follow a greater call. By synthesizing these traits, a construct of humility is easier to design.

Ability to Understand

             According to Schein (2011), organizations have become too complex to rely on one hubris leader. In describing leadership in future organizations, “leadership will involve a constant shifting of roles as the task demands change” (Schein, 2011, p.4). To adapt to these changes, a leader has to understand the organization is complex, and therefore, they have to continue to learn. Part of this learning process is to know what role a humble leader can take in a helping situation (Schein, 2011). Schein names this type of humble leadership as a process consultant. In this role the team members work together to identify and solve problems that are beyond their expertise (Schein, 2011).

An arrogant leader views success independently from the success of an organization. While a humble leader sees success tied to the organization (Hayes & Comer, 2011). In sports, it is like a quarterback having above-average statistical performance, while the team has lost most of the games. If the quarterback says that he had a great year, he does not understand the complexities in an organization and exhibits a vice of arrogance. His lack of knowledge is that a losing team does not attract as many followers and endorsements, which will eventually mean the quarterback misses future salary.

Ask the Right Questions

             In order to learn the complexities in the organization, the leader has to learn to ask the right questions (Vera & Rodriguez-Lopez, 2004). By asking for advice, leaders exhibit a form of humility that demonstrates they are not only open to learning, but they also admit they do not have all the answers. The help is mutual. By asking the right questions, the leader learns, and the entire team is helped by their openness (Schein, 2011).

Vera and Rodriguez-Lopez (2004) directly connect the openness to learn and ask the right questions to organizational outcomes such as innovation, productivity, low employee turnover, and leadership development. From their research this type of humility, leads to a source of competitive advantage for organizations.