The Value of Humble Leadership

April 1

Introduction

Trying to be the best CEO for the company can be a difficult position to discern. CEO’s have to consider how they appear to others, in particular the board and the company employees. Confidence must be exuded from any CEO to provide that front-line face of security that investors and all stakeholders of a company have to see to feel comfortable in the future stability of the business. With this being the case, it is often quite difficult for a CEO to decide whether they are able to take advice from employees without looking weak or be allowed to collaborate with the team instead of dictating. This article explores the reasons why being a humble leader can gain higher results for the company and the CEO individually and as a whole.

 

Why Should a CEO be Humble?

Humility might not seem like a trait that a good leader would need, but in fact most companies believe that it promotes better human engagement, increases trust and creates better input. In this regard, having a humble leader can act as a secure foundation for future positive transformation. Studies have shown that humble leaders are also emotionally stable, eager to learn, and have a higher degree of modesty. When clarity and confidence are also core aspects of a CEO role, it can be difficult to find a balance between confidence and being humble. The best reason for being humble as a leader is to build trust with the team and all stakeholders.  Historically, good leaders had to be seen as strong, so aiming to be seen as being vulnerable seemed to contradict that vision of strength.  Humble leaders are said to work both for the company and for themselves through a mix of professional will and personal humility.

Being humble as a leader can have the effect of reducing disengagement among employees, which can run up to 70% of the workforce. The common belief about humble leaders is that when they are in charge of a team of workers, it gives the workers an incentive to perform better, since the credit is shared between them. This creates an environment where employees are proud of the work they conduct. Tough managers are able at times to increase performance, but only for a short while, because that method of management has a tendency of creating stress for employees and add to healthcare costs. The equilibrium which a humble CEO must find is one that allows them to continue being humble while not being taken advantage of.

When work interactions are positive, employee happiness will be higher. This can be achieved by being a CEO which listens to suggestions that employees have, and who can acknowledge when they make a mistake themselves. If a path is found to be ineffective, being willing to change the path is a sign of a humble CEO. By accepting their own strengths and weaknesses, CEOs can share in the success or failure of the team and build a higher degree of collaboration and greater ease in delivering a workable and effective solution.

Reports have shown that when a CEO acts like they have all the answers, even if they do for a short while, their overall leadership engagement will be decreased. When a CEO invites debate from the senior leadership team and the board, it will lead to more positive interactions and higher engagement by all.

 

Conclusion

Finding the right degree of humility as a CEO while retaining the confident stance that is required for that position means considering the interpersonal relationships between the CEO and those which they deal with in the course of business. By being humble, CEO’s open themselves up to a risk that others might see them as vulnerable or weak, which creates uncertainty. By opening up to this, a CEO can gain more from a team collectively than they would have been able to if they had remained aloof and unapproachable. Even though there are still leaders which operate a ‘sink or swim’ mentality about their employee’s performance, by incorporating modern leadership theory and including compassion, empathy and collaboration has shown to improve engagement levels.

In the past, there have been autocratic leaders that were able to make every decision themselves without any input and be successful. In contemporary business however, and with the future trajectory which will see the next generation enter the workforce, there will likely be an uptake on leaders being humble and sharing successes and failures with employees through higher engagement.

About the Author

John Macklin

John Macklin

Director Legal & Compliance

jmacklin@lincoln.ie+ 353 ( 1 ) 661 0444

John is a Director and Head of the Legal division at Lincoln Ireland. He is also a qualified New York State Attorney and holds a Masters in Commercial Law from University College Dublin, an M.B.A. from Trinity College Dublin. John has over 10 years’ experience in the recruitment of legal partners across top tier firms, mid-tier firms and boutique practices across Ireland and further afield. Since joining Lincoln in 2013, John has also acted as company side advisor to many small to mid-level practices advising on mergers and acquisitions.

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