There’s nothing worse than arrogance. Arrogant people are what I like to call “social hand grenades”—throw them into a public gathering and watch the crowd disperse.
The opposite of arrogance is humility, and humility receives a bad rap. People often think that humility is a sign of “weakness”, insecurity, or a lack of confidence, but in my experience as a leadership coach and former Navy SEAL, humility is just the opposite.
People who embrace humility are humble because they’re confident and because they’re competent. It’s when they overcompensate for a lack thereof (confidence or competence) that they leave humble ground and enter arrogant territory.
The truth is, humility is a sign of strength. Humble people self-actualize through service because they don’t feel the need to tell everybody how awesome they are. Instead, they let actions speak for themselves. To be humble isn’t to think less of yourself, it’s to think of yourself less.
If you want to “up your leadership game,” below are 14 ways leaders show up with greater humility that I see as a leadership coach:
1. Humble People Are Situationally Aware.
To be situationally aware is to be cognizant of yourself, the people around you, the context of the environment and the social dynamics therein. The reason humble people are situationally aware is that their focus is external—on the social dynamics and interactions—rather than on their own thoughts.
2. Humble People Serve.
One study revealed that humble people are more generous than their arrogant counterparts (okay, maybe not “arrogant” but certainly “boastful”) which helps them build stronger relationships. After all, who wants to work with or be friends with somebody who only serves themselves?
3. Humble People Are Engaged.
Another study of more than 1,000 participants found higher levels of employee engagement and less turnover amidst humble leaders compared to their not-so-humble counterparts.
4. Humble People Simplify Decisions.
When you put other people’s needs before your own, you eliminate one layer of decision making. In the SEAL Teams, the thought process for (pretty much) everything was 1) mission 2) team 3) me—the individual. In that order. By focusing on the mission first, we eliminated decision making fatigue elsewhere and made the criteria for success that much clearer.
5. Humble People Contribute When Necessary.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand it when people talk for the sake of talking. Humble people don’t feel compelled to cast their conversation before others just to demonstrate how smart they are. Instead, humble people realize that nobody cares how much they know until it’s clear how much they care.
6. Humble People Listen To Understand.
I love being in a conversation where you know the other person isn’t listening to you but instead just waiting to speak (that’s a little sarcasm for you). Some people just can’t wait to have their words heard. These are the same people who place their self-interest before yours. Tread carefully with these people. On the other hand, humble people direct their attention outward–they listen to understand rather than wait to speak.
7. Humble People Are Curious.
Humility and curiosity are inextricably linked since you can’t be curious about something without acknowledging that you don’t know—and that requires humility. Humble people aren’t afraid to ask for clarification because they seek to understand.
8. Humble People Take Action.
Humble people aren’t afraid to speak their minds because they don’t fear being wrong. They realize that bridging the gap from intention to action requires courage, and because they’re humble, they’re not afraid to assume risk.
9. Humble People Focus On The Little Things.
Humble people take a moment to say “thank you” to the server pouring water at dinner and to the busboy cleaning up plates thereafter. Being humble means taking time to express gratitude for those who serve you.
10. Humble People Believe In Abundance.
There’s plenty of opportunities to go around for everybody. Humble people share these opportunities by collaborating and connecting with others.
11. Humble People Begin With “You.”
They make other people the priority which comes out in their language. You don’t hear a lot of “me,” “myself,” or “I’s” from humble people. Instead, you hear “you,” “us,” or “we.”
12. Humble People Seek Feedback.
Feedback is information. Information provides clarity. Clarity creates momentum. Humble people aren’t just “open” to receiving feedback, they actively pursue it as if they’re trying to tame an untamed fire hose. Why? Because they know that feedback is the path to improvement–and they’re curious.
13. Humble People Own It.
Instead of pointing fingers or blaming “leadership” as the problem that won’t go away, humble people own their part and are comfortable speaking up.
14. Humble People Ask For Help.
One aspect of humility is realizing that other answers exist—and that you might not have them yet. That’s okay, nobody does. If they did, then I’d be out of a job as a leadership coach. However, what constitutes humility is when you acknowledge that you don’t know and listen for ways to improve.
I can’t think of anybody who couldn’t benefit from more humility, including myself. How do you want to show up as a leader?