The world of work is changing at a furious pace. Innovation and disruption are causing radical market share shifts in many industries.
Millennials and working families are driving growth in remote work setups. Consumers and employees are demanding sustainable enterprise, which has a profound impact not only on economics, but also on organizational design and culture. Whereas yesterday’s leaders had a relatively clear sense of their market and the tools in their kit, today’s leaders face a landscape that shifts like a desert dune, and their toolkit is constantly becoming obsolete.
In this context, expertise and experience no longer define the leader. Instead, his or her ability to come up the curve quickly on new challenges is most crucial. To accelerate learning and maximize outcomes, leaders may explore a number of approaches. However, there is one approach they will find particularly valuable: the adoption of a humble mindset.
Humility is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people.” It’s this reverence of others’ opinions and their feedback that creates a powerful flow of data from which leaders can derive important insights. It also engenders a culture of “we,” which is the cornerstone of powerful, productive teams.
Active listening is a major component of the humble leadership mindset. When leaders interact with their stakeholders from the standpoint of genuine interest, warmth, and curiosity, they create a human connection that not only feels good, but also pays dividends. If leaders take the time to get to know their teams, understanding each individual’s strengths and interests and how they can be utilized best, they can use this information to make efficient business decisions while simultaneously keeping their people engaged. When leaders ask their customers about their needs, and they allow those needs to guide the business, they allow these customers to co-create a dream product, and revenue will flow naturally as a consequence. Real, genuine insights and effectiveness result from empathetic listening.
Another attribute of the humble leader is the service mentality. When a leader offers help, it’s only natural for the recipient to let down his or her guard and reciprocate with kindness. Whether opening up a network for a prospective partner, urging an employee with a sick parent to work remotely, or spending time with a client to work through a problem that doesn’t have a direct ROI, unsolicited acts of service will bring enormous returns. People like to work with those who are kind, and revenues will naturally result.
Acknowledgement is the third pillar of the humble leadership mindset. When a leader makes a mistake, it can be difficult for the ego to tolerate. But leaders must acknowledge and embrace failure if they want to succeed in our increasingly mercurial marketplace. For example, if a leader’s explanation of a concept to an employee is misunderstood, it’s on the leader to take responsibility for not explaining clearly enough, and to try again—this time with more thoughtfulness about the employee’s knowledge or context. Similarly, if a project fails, there should be no finger-pointing. A team succeeds and fails as a unit, and that includes the leader. Leaders also make mistakes when deciding the company’s direction—it’s human. Acknowledging one’s failure and the lessons learned will allow leaders to learn, improve, and achieve buy-in from their stakeholders. These leaders will be respected for taking responsibility, reacting adaptively, and communicating transparently.
In today’s challenging workplace, where technology is enabling faster and more extreme innovations every day, embracing our very humanity is the key to survival. Humans aren’t machines—we don’t know everything there is to know and we make mistakes. By adopting an attitude of humility, leaders can connect authentically with their stakeholders, derive powerful insights, and make smart decisions for their companies, allowing them to advance at the forefront of change.
By Avery Roth
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