Wisdom, humility and grace
17 December 2020 – When we look at some of the successful entrepreneurs and CEOs of our time, it’s easy to assume that it takes arrogance, stubbornness and a hard-nosed attitude in order to build a booming venture.
The truth is, those qualities can get you pretty far in business but it takes wisdom, humility and grace to create companies that will stand the test of time.
I have been working with a coach recently, talking through different strategies and approaches to people management. I’m always looking for ways to improve my leadership skills and find new perspectives.
I’ve noticed that we keep coming back to one main theme: motivating and inspiring the team. It’s something that I’m truly passionate about.
We business owners can’t do it all on our own. We need people with us on the journey. I’ve founded a few businesses in my time and it always comes back to this: the quality of your people determines the quality of your business.
There are a few ways to truly show people that you value them. One, of course, is to praise them. But leaders must go a step further: show them that their contribution has been vital to the success of the business. That means showing humility.
Humility is the most underrated leadership quality. It’s hard to learn, even more difficult to master, yet humility can have an extraordinarily positive impact on your organisation.
Over the years, many scientists, leadership experts and HR companies have run studies looking at humble leaders. Here are some of the standout findings:
The Journal of Management found that “when a more humble CEO leads a firm, its top management team is more likely to collaborate, share information, jointly make decisions, and possess a shared vision”.
Administrative Science Quarterly made a similar discovery. It published a study in 2014 that said: “We find CEO humility to be positively associated with empowering leadership behaviours. This positively relates to middle managers’ perception of having an empowering organisational climate, which is then associated with their work engagement, affective commitment, and job performance.”
Psychologists are now debating whether the personality traits previously associated with success – openness, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability – should, in fact, be switched to honesty-humility, conscientiousness, extraversion, emotionality (whatever that means), agreeableness and openness to experience.
I’m learning all the time – both from my coach and from leaders closer to home. Recently, I chaired the BigChange “red flag” meeting. This is a session where we look at improvements that need to be made, and set a timeframe for making progress. My COO Jo has been leading those meetings for a while now but she was away that day.
The meeting was supposed to take half an hour. I asked so many questions and looked at each item in such depth that it took an hour. It’s fair to say that my absolute commitment to excellent customer service can be hard on the team. I’m never satisfied, always pushing for better, faster, smarter.
I realised after that meeting just how talented Jo is at running red flag. People feel recognised, motivated, and filled with energy after sessions, all because of her adept handling. I feel extremely grateful to have her, and I’m going to learn from her style of humble, graceful and wise leadership. We both get great results but she has shown me that it is possible to do things a better, easier way.
There are many ways to show humility. We all took pay cuts when the COVID crisis started to bite earlier this year. The first chance I could, I restored the majority of the team to full pay, while keeping my own pay docked. People have told me that meant a lot, and really showed my dedication to the team. I’m glad I’m getting some things right. I just want to be the best leader I can.
So, whatever you do as a leader now, or in the future, do it with wisdom, humility and grace.