Authentically Leading and Following (Part IX)

By Paula Brown Stafford and Lisa T. Grimes “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis Have you ever tried to help someone who thought they knew all the answers?  Someone who refused to look at a problem a different way than their way? It’s all too common. It gets pretty infuriating after a while, doesn’t it?  No one wants to work with a “know-it-all”.  Eventually they will create bigger problems with no solutions.  Leaders who are like this don’t lead for long.  They create an environment of seclusion – their way or the highway – and eventually will either be removed or cause the company to fall apart. Authentic leaders build a culture of inclusion, and people will go above and beyond for leaders who make them feel valued.  According to a 2014 research study, the four top attributes for inclusive leaders are empowerment, humility, courage, and accountability.  We have already discussed empowerment and courage.  Now, we want to look at humility, why it is so vital and how to promote humility within the team.


Every leader needs to understand two things.  First, they are leaders for a reason.  Second, they don’t and can’t know everything.  Humility is all about freedom from pride or arrogance.  We put others first rather than ourselves.  This doesn’t mean that leaders should not show confidence.  Yes, leaders should be confident in their ability to lead and make tough decisions.  Leaders who are constantly seeking approval and second-guessing their choices are leading with fear, not humility.  However, a leader’s confidence can easily turn to pride and arrogance when they become too confident in their own ability alone.  When leaders combine confidence and humility, then there is a balance that promotes an inclusive, healthy work environment. If we want to promote this healthy balance, then humility needs to start with us.  Don’t wait for somebody else to be the first.  Here are three ways we can become authentic leaders and followers with humility.

  1. Learn from Others

Remember, whether we are leading or following, we can always learn from those around us.  None of us has all the answers so we don’t need to pretend we do.  Rather than, “Me first. I know best,” humility says, “No, you first.”  Marcus Buckingham, co-author of “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” believes that instead of strengthening your weakness, utilize your strengths and bring in people who can supplement your weaknesses.  We do what we can do well, and we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for advice when we don’t know something.

  1. Admit Mistakes

Admitting our own mistakes is tough.  Yet, if we try to make excuses or blame others, then we are only encouraging others to do the same.  Instead, we should own our mistakes and then be the first to offer a solution.  Let our own errors become learning opportunities for us and others.  When we lead with that example, our followers will not only feel more comfortable owning their mistakes but come with a way to solve for the issue in the future.

  1. Accept Criticism

We have discussed criticism in previous blogs, but it shows just how important we believe constructive criticism to be. We don’t always catch our shortcomings.  In fact, we need to be thankful for those who have the courage to respectfully correct us and want us to be our best.  Therefore, rather than getting defensive, we should listen and learn from criticism. Showing humility acknowledges that we are imperfect humans.  As leaders, we are the example for both good and bad workplace habits.  Let’s promote humility by learning from others, admitting our mistakes, and accepting criticism.  Confidence with humility creates a healthy work environment that promotes inclusion and teamwork.