January 23rd 2009
This is the final part of a whole series on leadership. Check the leadership introduction here for all articles in the series.
To me, leadership is often thought or even taught that it requires a person to be very pushy, aggressive and must stand out amongst any possible competition. I’ve focused this series on looking at how leadership fits an individual, not how an individual has to fit leadership. This is contrary since many still believe leadership needs that commanding, loud, direct personality with the best track record, skills and talents to make things happen. Well I say, "Bah!!!" That isn’t what leadership is at all! A leader is not necessarily any better, smarter, or more skilled than others. A leader does however, have influence and impact with others. This unique capability doesn’t have to be a trade off for a compassionate personality or a label of someone with an "ego". Leadership can be done with great humility and I believe it requires humility to truly be a great leader. You don’t have to give up any bit of your personality to be leader, you can be a leader in your own way. The problem is, it’s easy to lose your humility in achievement so this final topic on leadership is about staying humble with leadership.
"What should it profit a man if he would gain the whole world yet lose his soul." (Mark 8:36)
I’ve written several times about humble leadership both looking at what humility is and what I think it means to truly lead. You might want to check out these previous articles for more on that.Being Humble: Leadership and Why Bothering to Be Humble? (or as Being Humble Series PDF download from the free resources page).
Even if you’ve read those before I’ll explore a little more what this humility means from the leadership perspective.
There are many leaders that think being a leader is about taking charge, having authority or a position to tell others what to do or to win influence over others because of self accomplishment. That isn’t leadership, it’s power and they are two very different things. If you want to be seen as a leader, stand out or emerge as a leader in your work or life, then likely that stems more from the desire of power than it does from leadership. Leadership is nothing about you, it’s about others.
Humility is when you can remove the status and personal gains from what you do as a leader and begin to look only at what you accomplish in the lives of those who follow you. You know that any accomplishment or changes come about through those you lead and without them, you are nothing. It’s about recognizing others before yourself and taking a far step away from any ego and closer to a compassionate and genuine concern to make others around you better and able to do more. That is humble leadership my friends.
Blending Willpower and Humility
Willpower is a massive part of being a leader and having a strong will to improve things and change is what shapes the role of many leaders. They can use that will through difficult times, to get through impossible situations and to inspire others like no one could ever hope to accomplish without the same willpower. Blending that together with humility that a leader should have from knowing he needs others to accomplish anything will enable them as a much stronger leader. Putting willpower at work towards the people being led progresses things even faster creating a much more loyal group of followers. All of a leader’s efforts and willpower should be spent and shared with others to ensure they experience it first hand and are empowered by it themselves. The blend of these abilities allows a leader to instil their own extreme level of will to all their followers. Having a strong will without humility can easily (without even intending it), build on a leader’s ego and be a very negative influence to others.
I learned this first hand several years ago in dealing with what I considered (at the time) people who couldn’t get the job done right. I had the will power to want to do it faster and push the deadlines, but doing this by either saying or demonstrating (I made the mistake of doing both) that I could in fact do it faster did nothing to help me emerge as a leader of people. It made me look strong in my skills, yes, but the people I had to work with didn’t see this as helpful or as leading them in any way. Instead, it was very intimidating and quite a negative impact on them. The damage that this has done is obvious now that I have learned from that experience. I now see this in others as well and know better than to put my willpower to work for myself, because it does nothing. Instead, when I put my willpower to empowering others, encouraging them, and working to help and convince them that our plans will work, are achievable and that we will all succeed, I can take them much further without ever a mention of my own abilities. Blending humility with willpower is one of those areas that makes a difference between good leaders and great leaders.
Willpower is very useful for facing difficult situations, such as:
- to drive through low standards
- face mediocrity with a helping hand
- eliminate failure
Staying ambitious among a team and organization as a leader while remaining modest and non-boastful is what humble leadership is all about. I dare say it’s the highest level of leadership, the most rewarding and it makes the biggest most lasting impact a leader can make.
Leadership will always be about others and a great leader puts much attention towards that. Whether it is for skill development, filling a gap, enhancing areas for even better results or for succession planning, building others is done best by humble leaders. People want to learn from someone that doesn’t think they know it all or are better than you. Staying humble while training and giving advice is an easy way to ensure they stay interested and lets you not only build their leadership skills, but also their confidence. That’s because a humble leader will also encourage a person and credit them often. They can encourage a person to realize that they have their own talents and skills within their capabilities and that the teacher (humble leader) just helps to surface and release those skills. Compare that to a egotistic style sounding like this, "Just do what I tell you to do, I’ve been there and already know best how to do it!". Would you want to learn from someone like that? Would it give you much self confidence? I doubt it.
Leadership should also ensure that there is some level of succession planning. The things that the leader does on their own should be eliminated, as it is a single point of failure among a group. To get the best results from any team, there should not be a single point of failure and there should be built in through skills an inherent flexibility when it comes to resources. The leader should look to build others’ with leadership skills the particular areas they do themselves so that ultimately they could be replaced. Many fear this approach as they think it can put other candidates in place for their role and put themselves as risk. It does in some ways, but from a leadership perspective, not really. First of all, the best thing that a great leader could possible accomplish is to lead a group to be self contained and able to produce the amazing results and drive for accomplishment on their own. A leader who can do this is extremely valuable, as they are a producer of leaders themselves. You can lead anywhere if you have the ability to produce more leaders in doing so. Listing that kind of value on your resume and portfolio has impact!
Finally I come to servant leadership. It’s foundation is humility and means that you put others first, above yourself consistently. You’ll end up doing the things you don’t want to do and you’ll take any consequences away from others to relieve them. These could be things like taking blame, sacrifice of work hours or giving up credit even when it is due. And this isn’t done when convenient, it’s consistent!
There are many ways that servant leaders lead, and it is usually obvious in their humility. Here are just a few:
- Will always take someone else’s suggestion or idea over their own
- They don’t ever need to get their own way
- They never argue to be right about something, they immediately close it and say, "you may be right"
- They hold their own opinion and let other’s share first
- Want and query the opinion of others often
- Appreciate what they have and are given
- Never make excuses, they simply accept responsibility (even if it isn’t theirs to accept)
- Will carry out any task, no matter how tedious
- Are happy to help others with anything
Servant leadership is based on love and help to others. A servant leader demonstrates this in every action they do, which is how they lead, by doing. I personally believe this is not only a noble way to lead, but a godly one. It was taught by the only perfect servant leader, Jesus Christ and is a powerful humbling way to lead. Learning this takes life experience (often the hard way by learning what NOT to do) and by studying and reflecting on other humble leaders. What makes them humble, how do you measure or judge someone’s humility. How far would you take things to be humble and for who?
Learning to be more humble requires great attention and a change in your character traits to relate more closely to human relationships and lasting endeavors in life that includes others. Look to read more on servant leadership from leaders who have made great sacrifices and lead by love. They are not the typical top CEOs or the celebrity leaders that get the most publicity, they are the quiet, graceful and often missed leaders that leave the greatest impact of the hearts of many once they are gone.
Please add your comments, please add your thoughts and I’d love to hear what you have to say about this article as the last in this series and the series as a whole. Hold nothing back. What did you love, what did you hate? What was missing? I appreciate any comments you have to offer! And if you read this far and liked the article or series, please add a stumble review to help share it for me. Thanks!