Prideful Leaders: An Antidote


In the most recent blog in this series, we identified common traits and behaviors of the prideful leader. In this installment, I hope you’ll consider a few prescriptions that may help turn you (or your boss) into a more humble leader. One who cares more about others than he does himself. Or at least, cares about others just as much as he does himself.

Developing a new identity, attitude, and the behaviors of humble leader does not happen overnight. It requires an intentional process. Meaning, the leader must want to change. Throwing off a lifetime of prideful behavior to assume an entirely new way of thinking and behaving must begin with baby steps and become a daily habit. François Fénelon an 18th century French Archbishop and theologian said it well, “Humility is not a grace that can be acquired in a few months: it is the work of a lifetime.”

Healthy leaders know humility creates the trust and loyalty needed to succeed. It’s not about them, it’s about the vision, the goal, the organization and as Simon Sinek @simonsinek reminds us, the “why.” It’s not about reputation and self-interests but others.

Humility too often is associated with being timid, weak, or a pushover. But the truth is, it’s a great strength. Take a look at the great leaders, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Jesus, and the Level 5 Leaders researched in @level5leaders Jim Collins’ seminal tome, Good to Great.

Far from pushovers, timid and weak. Their focus was on others (servant leadership) and not their self-interests.

Psychological Scientist, Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren @drvantongeren offers a simple prescription for beginning the journey from pride to humility.

· Seek feedback. Honest feedback from a trusted source in your life (e.g., family member, romantic partner, trusted friend, valued colleague) is essential. Ask them how humble they perceive you to be, where your blind spots are, and how you could be more aware, open, or empathic.

· Set aside your defensiveness. You might not like the feedback you hear, but your internal voice arguing against what you hear is counter-productive. That self-talk may prompt reactions like denying any wrongdoing. Or, displacing anger and embarrassment on your source of feedback, or maybe worst, projecting how arrogant other people are. Remind yourself this is a process; a chance to learn and grow, understanding that developing humility requires time and effort. Building humility requires a vital openness to learn.

· Focus on empathy. Empathy is the key to humility, and it’s comprised of two parts: the ability to take someone else’s perspective and a genuine concern for the well-being of another person. Building empathy helps us cultivate humility. Before you respond, ask yourself two questions: (1) Why might other perspectives be right? (2) How would I respond if I treated the other person as if they were trying their very best? Empathy can help break our pattern of self-focus and connect us with others.

So how does a prideful leader begin to introduce humility into the culture of the organization?

· Begin to live it. Remember that Kouzes and Posner @KouzesPosner identified the 5 Practices of Exemplary Leaders. The first was “Model the Way”

· Make humility a well-known CORE VALUE of the organization

· Look for humble people in your organization. Recognize them. Place them in positions of influence to begin inculcating the entire enterprise

· Hire humble people. In the search process for new talent, purposefully look for this trait. People of strong character are always valued. Add humility to your list

· Practice flexibility. Recognize when others have a great idea; maybe, a better solution than you own, or the “way you’ve always done it”

· Purposefully create a safe environment in which feedback, critique and constructive criticism are welcomed and valued

Norm Mintle