I’ve heard the term Leadership described in many ways. Wikipedia simply describes Leadership as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.” It seems logical then to lead well, leaders must be men and women of influence. So how do we become people of influence. I believe there is one key characteristic that people of influence share. The opposite is also true, people struggling to have influence usually share a common characteristic. Michael McKinney said it best when he said, “Our ego hinders our ability to influence more than anything else under our control.” If you want to be a leader of influence and inspiration, you must be a person of genuine humility.
One of my first leadership lessons came from my father. He has been in executive positions with a National Company, an owner of a successful business and a pastor of several successful churches. He has been in a leadership role my entire life and I have been fortunate enough to watch and learn. I remember sitting in his office after just graduated from College. I don’t recall the discussion rather than a bit of advice he gave me. He said, “Leadership is like a mirror. When you have success you point your mirror at your team and everyone around you. Success is a reflection of your team. When things fail, you turn the mirror to yourself . Failure is a reflection of your leadership.” That has stuck with me ever since.
Now more than ever terms like “soft skills” are used to describe great leadership attributes. Emotional Intelligence is the catch phrase of day. Influence is so important that consultants and authors alike are trying to figure out what makes great leaders great, and it usually always comes down to humility. Soft Skills and Emotional Intelligence at their roots are humility driven. In order to understand the emotions and perceptions of others a person needs to humble themselves enough to understand them. Humility in today’s world is like a light in a dark room , or a beckon on the horizon. It stands out and attracts others. A sense of humility is essential to leadership because it authenticates a person’s humanity. We humans are frail creatures; we have our faults. Recognizing what we do well, as well as what we do not do so well, is vital to self-awareness and paramount to humility. Struggling to gain influence? John Baldoni suggests the following ways to demonstrate humility in the workplace.
Temper authority. Power comes with rank but you don’t have to pull it to make it work for you. You can encourage others to make decisions by delegating authority and responsibility. Encourage your people to write their own performance objectives and set team goals. Allow them to make decisions. Your authority comes in the form of imposing order and discipline.
Look to promote others. Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman note in their seminal text, First, Break All the Rules, that a characteristic of successful managers is their ability to promote others, sometimes to positions higher than their own. Such managers are talent groomers, they are ones upon whose leadership success of the enterprise rests.
Acknowledge what others do. Few have said it better than legendary Alabama coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant. “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.” Practice that attitude always, especially when things are not going well, and your team will rally together because they want you to succeed. In short, humility breeds humility.
Citing a passage from Ernie Pyle who had been killed in action in the Pacific months before in anticipation of victory. “We won this war because our men are brave and because of many things — because of Russia, England and China and the passage of time and the gift of nature’s material. We did not win it because destiny created us better than all other peoples… I hope that we are more grateful than we are proud.” Great leaders find influence with humility.