Leadership: The Humilis Equation

The last time I wrote, I said that my next article would be about processes and how leaders can leverage them to get things done. Just kidding–I guess that will be the next article. Since my last article, Sammi, a colleague of mine, emailed me and said that I should write about humility. My first thought was that humility was already a well covered topic in leadership articles, books and forums. What could I possibly add to this already popular discussion? A day or so later, I wrote her back and agreed that I would give it some thought. Over a few cups of coffee and some airplane time when the WIFI didn’t work (surprise), I stayed true to my word and did some thinking about humility and leadership.

As I started thinking, I delved into the ancient practice of looking words up in the dictionary to find out their origins and what they actually mean. If you can’t actually find an old school dictionary, then by all means ask our good friends Google or Siri. As it turns out, humility comes from the Latin word humilis which means “low” and is defined as a modest or low view of one’s importanceHumility, humble and humbleness are all words that share the same DNA of their parent—humilis. Stay with me, a riveting insight is coming. Isn’t it interesting that the letters “U” and “I” are part of the spelling of humilis and humility and that “U” comes before “I”. Can you see where I’m going with this as we think about humility and leadership? If you aren’t seeing the connection, grab some more coffee.

When I think about all of the leaders that I’ve worked for, at all different levels in my military and civilian careers, I can honestly say that almost all of them were humble leaders. Maybe there was an outlier here and there and they only scored a 7 out of 10 on the humility scale, but most importantly, the vast majority (99.9%) didn’t hold a higher view of themselves just because they were in a leadership role. Sure they had more responsibility and experience but that didn’t mean that they viewed themselves as more important than anyone else on the team or in the organization. They recognized, that as leaders, they were a part of the team and the organization. It was about U > I and U+I =WE. The Humilis Equation.

Here’s a few examples of the ways I saw humility show up in the leaders I worked for:

-They viewed leadership as privilege, not a title or an entitlement

-They genuinely expressed gratitude to everyone for their efforts and contributions

-They made time to talk to people and not just about work

-They always gave credit to others

-They were comfortable not being the smartest person in the room

-They used “We” way more than “I”

As I reflected on the “so what” and the impact that working for humble leaders had on me, one answer really stood out above all–I wanted to be part of their team. Why? Because I felt connected with them, they didn’t put themselves on a pedestal, they wanted everyone to succeed, and they cared about people.

To wrap this up, I’m glad Sammi inspired me to write about humility. Why? It’s plain and simple. Humility is a leadership strength. I’m glad I had the good fortune to work for humble leaders. Leaders that understood the power of humility, U > I and U+I =WE.

If this short article on humility resonated with you, share it with a rising leader that you know. Help them on their leadership journey. Good leaders are in high demand, now and in the future.

What am I thinking about next? How leaders can use processes to get things done. Unless one of my colleagues asks me to write about something else.

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