Hey Boss, Humility Will Make You a Better Leader


Merriam-Webster’s definition of humility:

  • the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” ~ C.S. Lewis

When we have humility, we should add value to ourselves but not focus on ourselves. We should value our achievements and successes, but we should focus on helping others achieve and succeed. Humility is a hard character trait to develop for some. However, humility strengthens the other character traits.

As you grow and get results, who you become during the process will greatly impact your influence. You can be very confident and be humble at the same time. The key is how you are being while you are confident. Humility is the foundation for confidence while pride and ego make up the foundation for conceit.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of conceit:

  • too much pride in your own worth or goodness

Merriam-Webster’s definition of conceited:

  • having or showing an excessively high opinion of oneself

Confidence and conceit are separated by a very fine line. The instant the positive confidence we have on the inside is expressed with arrogance on the outside, we have crossed the line. There is absolutely nothing wrong with valuing yourself highly and believing you can and will accomplish anything you set out to do. You should feel this way. What you do not have to do is tell everybody you meet about how great you are. Take Nike’s advice, “Just do it.” Go quietly and confidently on your journey.

Stop and Think: When you hear someone with conceit bragging on themselves about what they have done and are going to do, do you want to hear more? Do they have more or less influence?

One of the quickest ways to build trust is to get results. Things can get tricky in this area. When you are meeting someone or a group for the first time, in order to influence them at a high level, you must do two things. You must build a relationship with them based on your character (who you are). Humility is key here. You must also let them know you are competent (what you know) and have been successful in their area of interest. Results are key here.

Getting results is a competency trait. The quickest way to lose trust is through one of the character traits. Humility is weighted very heavily in the character equation. Little or no humility definitely lowers your trustworthiness. If you think it’s about you, you are more likely to believe you deserve the credit more than someone else.

“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” ~ John Wooden

You may or may not be a person of faith, but you surely understand you, like everyone else, were born with a specific set of natural talents. You did not have to earn them.

Wooden said, “Be humble.” You do not deserve the credit for your natural talent, so don’t try and take the credit. On fame, he said, “Be grateful.” Fame can only be earned through influence. You cannot decide you are going to be famous, only others can choose to make you famous by recognizing you for good or bad. Wooden said it best at the end, “Be careful.” He is talking about conceit. No one can make you conceited. Only you can choose conceit. You can also choose to be humble and avoid it. Both are choices.

To better understand humility, let’s look at what it is not. When someone chooses to be conceited, they are choosing arrogance, pride, and ego over humility. For these individuals, it is about power and recognition. It’s not only about getting the credit, but also about taking the credit from others to boost their own ego.

They need it. They seize it. And, they feed on it. Their influence, if they have any, typically comes through fear and intimidation manifested through a position of authority. This authority could be as a parent or a teacher. It could come from having rank or a title.

Without a position of authority and without resorting to violence, these people would not have very much influence. No one would want to follow them or do what they said do if they did not have to do it. These people get their influence from borrowing power and strength from their position or their authority.

If we’re a manager, a boss, a parent, have higher rank, or have been granted formal authority over others, borrowing power from our position does not automatically make us a higher level leader than someone without a position. It can actually lower our level of influence if the power associated with the position is abused. People who “have” to follow us will not give us 100 percent. They will resent us and withhold the extra effort a humble leader would easily earn.

Nearly everyone has had a “formal authority” boss with low level moral influence. Formal authority is about power and position over others. Moral authority is about humility and earning influence with others while respecting them regardless of one’s own position. One leader, we prefer not to be around or work with, and the other, we love and appreciate. With high level leadership (influence), we feel it more than we see it.

Whether you have a position of authority or not, if you want to increase your influence with others, the key is to develop strong, positive relationships based on your character. Consider the motive behind a conceited person and a humble person. Why do they seek to influence? Their benefit or someone else’s? What’s their intent?

Stop and Think: If you know someone is influencing you only to boost their ego, are they building trust or creating distrust? Will they have more or less influence?

Stop and Think: If you know someone has your best interest at heart and will give you the credit for your success, are they building trust or creating distrust? Will they have more or less influence?

You will never find an arrogant, prideful, ego driven person serving others. You may absolutely find them using others in the name of service, but they will be found out eventually. Humility serves while conceit deserves.

Stop and Think: If someone’s intent is to serve you, do they build trust or create distrust? Does their influence increase or decrease? Are they more likely to be humble or conceited?

Stop and Think: If someone’s intent is to be served by you, do they build trust or create distrust? Does their influence increase or decrease? Are they more likely to be humble or conceited?

“We have to humble ourselves and the way we do that is by serving other people.” ~ Tim Tebow

Be sure to check out my newest book, Blue-Collar Leadership: Leading from the Front Lines. It’s a resource for developing the entry-level, blue-collar workforce.

Mack’s story is an amazing journey of personal and professional growth. He began his career in manufacturing on the front lines of a machine shop. He grew himself into upper management and found his niche in lean manufacturing and along with it, developed his passion for leadership. He understands that everything rises and falls on leadership.