Humility: A Soft or Power Skill?

Society celebrates bravado, conceit, and excessive attention to the self. People become increasingly competitive, needy for attention, narcissistic, obsessed with appearance, and arrogant.

Therefore, humility is considered, often superficially, a defect, a “lack” of self-esteem and self-confidence, of personal ambition and ability to take initiative, and therefore a cause of failure.

In contrast, humility is a permeable filter that absorbs life experience and converts it into knowledge and wisdom.

It’s an important quality for anyone (learning, for example, requires the humility to realize you have something to learn and the wisdom to know when you need to learn it), and it seems especially valued in a leader.

Studies show that humble leaders have a clear understanding of who they are and the areas that present opportunities for growth. They don’t try to act as if they have no flaws or weaknesses, and this allows them to be more authentic in their leadership role.

Additionally, these leaders are much better equipped to handle conflicts because they can see with interest and attention both sides of an issue.

As a result, people are attracted to them.

The instinctive repulsion that many managers or aspiring those have towards the term humility derives, above all, from a fundamental misunderstanding: humble is not someone who thinks little “of” himself, but someone who thinks little “to” himself. In this definition, we find the inclination towards teamwork, listening to the customer and collaborators, attention to external dynamics, and the real possibility of continuous learning.

In fact, humble people often make excellent leaders just because they are patient, they see the best in others and are able to teach and learn from others, they are open to suggestions from others, and they admit their mistakes. They build trusting relationships with the people they work with. They are also more likely to see the big picture and make decisions in the best interests of the group.

Humble leaders understand that change is the only constant in today’s business environment and realize that the only way to stay ahead is to embrace it. This also means that they are open to new ideas and are constantly looking for ways to improve.

And, as all know, people want to follow leaders who are innovative, creative, and always attentive to the interests of the organization.

Humble leaders are often loved more because they are more authentic and transparent and, as a result, followers can see that they don’t try to put on a show or act as if they have all the answers.

On the other hand, given that the challenges of the VUCA world can only be addressed with leadership that does not have all the answers, that is adaptive, systemic, and builds open relationships, based on trust, people are mostly attracted to a person who is genuine, humble, down to earth.

All of this raises an obvious question: If humility is so important, why are so many leaders so arrogant? Or again, in the face of so much evidence that humble leaders are more valued than arrogant leaders, why is it so difficult for leaders at all levels to put ego aside?

I’ll venture some answers.

The majority of leaders think they can’t be humble and ambitious at the same time. In fact, according to prevailing logic, one of the great benefits of becoming the CEO of a company, head of a business unit, or leader of a team, is that you are finally responsible for making things happen and delivering results.

Furthermore, the “tacit assumption” among executives is that life is fundamentally and always a competition, between companies, but also between individuals within companies.

This is not exactly a mindset that recognizes the virtues of humility.

There’s another reason why it’s so difficult for leaders to be humble, and it is that many leaders (and not only them) think that humility can feel soft at a time when problems are difficult; it can make leaders appear vulnerable when people are looking for answers and reassurance.

On the contrary, this is precisely a characteristic of humility: the most effective leaders do not claim to have all the answers, the world is too complicated for this. They understand that their job is to get the best ideas from the right people, whoever and wherever those people may be.

Ultimately, every leader, with a good dose of humility, manages to guide the group by aiming for the hearts and emotions of their members.

All of the above is just my humble opinion.

I hope that the topic has nevertheless stimulated some food for thought that I expect to read in the comments.

Aldo Delli Paoli
Aldo Delli Paoli
Aldo is a lawyer and teacher of law & Economic Sciences, "lent" to the finance world. He has worked, in fact, 35 years long for a multinational company of financial service in the auto sector, where he held various roles, until that of CEO. In the corporate field, he has acquired skills and held positions as Credit Manager, Human Resource Manager, Team leader for projects of Acquisition & Merger, branch opening, company restructuring, outplacement, legal compliance, analysis and innovation of organizational processes, business partnerships, relations with Trade Unions and Financial Control Institutions. After leaving the company, he continued as an external member of the Board of Directors e, at the same time, he has gone back practicing law and was a management consultant for various companies. He has been also a columnist for newspapers specializing in labor law, automotive services and work organization. His interests include human behavior in the organizational environment, to the neuroscience, the impact of new technologies, the fate of the planet and people facing poverty or war scenarios. He loves traveling, reading, is passionate about many sports, follows the NBA and practices tennis.

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  1. I think, as you mentioned, the problem is that people don’t understand the definition of humble. Unlike eating humble pie, humility is not a punishment. Instead it is a quality that many never ascend to because it comes after the hubris. Arrogance is a shield to protect the fragile ego. Once a leader has accepted his abilities and accomplishments as stemming from his innate traits, he can relax into humility. Humility is a sign that a person is truly comfortable with himself/herself, strengths and short-comings included. When we reach humility, we no longer feel the need to project strength or protect our egos.

    • Thank you for being interested in my comment. I agree with your considerations.
      Humility is a calm strength. There is a particular dignity in genuinely humble people. Even if they are successful people, they have the experience and wisdom necessary to understand their own limits and the value of others. This strength gives them a perspective on the world less contaminated by prejudice, which encourages them to be tolerant of others and less tied to their own beliefs.