by Paul Casey

How to Model Humility to Your Team

Darren Hardy said, “To change your reflection (what you do that you want your people to do), change your projection (the example you set).”  You are being watched. Never forget that. Like it or not, your behavior and words influence the whole organization. Employees are paying attention to your actions, copying your ethics, and responding to what you notice and reward. What kind of credibility do you have with them? Credibility is the foundation of leadership.

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner describe the leadership practice Model the Way in their book The Leadership Challenge with the commitment of leaders to “set the example by aligning actions with shared values.” That alignment is also known as integrity. I’ve heard it said that integrity is making sure your video is in line with your audio! Or said another way: your “walk” (behavior) talks louder than your “talk” (words) talks. Whether they are leading a staff meeting, at a social event, or posting on-line, they are the same person of character.

I have witnessed many a leader who didn’t possess the character that matched with his/her position of leadership, and the end result was always crashing and burning—and also taking many others down with him/her. Leaders without integrity are like when I once approached a broken railroad crossing: the lights were flashing, but the gate didn’t come down all the way, leaving all who approached it, confused. Is there a train or not a train? (Check out the leadership behaviors to not get too casual about.) This blog post is all about character: knowing what is right, and making the choice every day to do it, even in challenging times and even when you think no one is looking.

Leaders with integrity (according to David Day and John Antonakis):

  • Never knowingly violate just laws/regulations in any consequential way
  • Tell the truth and never mislead
  • Make commitments carefully and keep them faithfully
  • Avoid conflicts of interest and when they are unavoidable, resolve them in favor of their duties/responsibilities, rather than benefiting themselves

Integrity, over and over in leadership studies, ranks first when people are polled for the trait admired most in their leaders. Our local national laboratory has a set of five core values, but when it comes down to it, integrity is the one of the five that matters most to hiring managers. John Foster says that “a man without a decision of character belongs to whatever can make a captive of him.”

We all know someone with narcissistic tendencies, who makes everything all about him/her, and where the world revolves around his/her every whim. Narcissists in leadership are oppressive and cause a lot of destruction. No one wants to follow someone who is an empire-builder, a legend in his/her own mind, someone who flaunts and then protects his/her power. Humble leaders, on the other hand, level the playing field and draw people into healthy relationships within an organization and inspire others to work for the good of the group. With their authenticity, by making themselves as one-of, and not one-above, they become great.

Humility, I believe, is the keystone of character. C.S. Lewis said, Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” It’s having that honest/accurate view of one’s self, having that recognition and acceptance of one’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s a willingness to admit mistakes and own up when it’s your fault. It’s a humanness and vulnerability that displays an open book to others—no masks, no game-playing, no secret motives nor shadow missions. “The leader within has to be the leader people see, know, and experience. Our values, our principles, our morals, our ethics, everything we strive to live by has to be expressed in every encounter.” –Frances Hesselbein

This quality does not imply that humble leaders are pushovers or simply yes-leaders. People can confuse humility with timidity, but timidity is a problem in leadership because it’s always “riding the brake” in the driver’s seat. To make this point, Jim Collins says that the level-5, good-to-great leaders of the best companies have an indomitable will that is the other side of the humility coin. It’s like strength under control. They inspire excellence, get a lot done, have high standards, and “don’t take jack” from mediocre employees, but they don’t have to get the glory. They somehow know how to shift the spotlight onto the rest of the team.

This shifting of the spotlight leads to “referent power”, influence over others that is acquired from being well-liked and respected.  In addition to being trustworthy and keeping their word, referent, humble leaders have made whomever they are talking to feel like the most important person in the room with their:

  • undivided attention,
  • attitude of acceptance,
  • demonstration of respect, and
  • celebration of others’ successes.

Humble leaders do not propose to be know-it-all’s. They can learn from anyone and anything.  They are the ones listening more than hearing themselves talk. They realize that anything they know has been poured into their head/heart by the work of someone else. And that produces an attractive energy that others want to give to and receive from. Humility is the gateway that allows you to walk into new opportunities.

Alan Deutschman reminds us that “leaders have only two tools at their disposal: what they say and how they act. What they say might be interesting, but how they act is always crucial.” Effective leaders need to BE what they want to SEE playing out in their organizations. Every day, demonstrate the values you believe in and want to see repeated.

Consider group coaching if you have a few other leaders who are doing the same role at your organization, and who want to grow to the next level of leadership. Not only will I facilitate learning experiences, but your peers will also speak into your life, for maximum returns and encouragement! Let’s talk about it:


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