The first indicator of potential is the right kind of motivation: a fierce commitment to excel in the pursuit of unselfish goals. High potentials have great ambition and want to leave their mark, but they also aspire to big, collective goals, show deep personal humility, and invest in getting better at everything they do. ~Claudio Fernandez-Araoz
I wish I would have kept track of the number of conversations I've had with leaders about the concept of humility and leadership. I find it perplexing that I'm even still having conversations with leaders who question the validity of humility being a critical trait of effective leadership. There is so much evidence; here are just a few examples.
Military Review, Sept/Oct 2000: "…the humble leader lacks arrogance, not aggressiveness. The will to serve others eclipses any drive to promote self."
In 2001 Jim Collins published Good to Great, what's become a business classic that will endure for years. In this book based on research of over 1,400 organizations, Collins concluded that "the key ingredient that allows a company to become great is having a Level 5 leader: an executive in whom genuine personal humility blends with intense professional will."
Bringing it closer to the present, this was published December 2011 in Investment Weekly News. "A study in Organization Science using data from more than 700 employees and 218 leaders confirmed that leader humility is associated with more learning-oriented teams, more engaged employees, and lower voluntary employee turnover."
The US Federal News Service, December 2011: "Leaders of all ranks view admitted mistakes, spotlighting follower strengths and modeling teachability as being the core of humble leadership," says Bradley Owens, assistant professor of organization and human resources at the University at Buffalo School of Management. "And they view these three behaviors as being powerful predictors of their own as well as the organization's growth." The researchers found that such leaders model how to be effectively human rather than superhuman and legitimize "becoming" rather than "pretending."
I'm almost done, but I've got to include two more quotes from within the past 12 months.
Forbes.com, November 15, 2013: "Great business leaders are remarkably talented, possessing special skills that allow them to push organizations to great heights. But true leadership requires them to be both exceptional and humble."
Finally, best-selling author and TED Talk sensation, Simon Sinek says in his most recent book, Leaders Eat Last (2014), "Great leaders don’t need to act tough. Their confidence and humility serve to underscore their toughness."
The quote I chose as the jumping-off point for this blog came from the most recent issue of HBR (June 2014). The momentum around evidence-based humble leadership is gaining, not fading. There are times when I want to grab leaders by the shoulders, shake them, and say "please, just let go already!" Let go of trying to prove yourself, of trying to be superhuman, of pretending that you've "arrived." Toughen up and embrace deep personal humility.