One of the critical traits of a leader is humility—the ability to make oneself vulnerable to others, to not have an inflated sense of one’s own importance, and able to share of themselves from a place of understanding and empathy. They are not interested in bombast, public relations, or the trappings of the C-suite. They don’t have their own parking space in front of the building. Leading with humility is an essential quality for collaborative leadership. It’s not about being important; it’s about being in relationship. It’s not about acclaim and recognition; it’s about giving it to others. It’s not about telling or directing; it’s about listening and engaging. It’s not about being honored; it’s about honoring those with whom they work.
We see the public promotion of leaders who are cult icons, execution experts, or drivers of profit and efficiency. We see leadership cultures based on hero worship that seems to have swept the landscape of organizations, qualities that they expect to be emulated by high potentials. Heroic leaders need the work to revolve around them, their silos, and accomplishments. It is an “I” culture that tends to foster competition, silo battles, and fire-fighting, usually ending up in deep dysfunction. And we institutionalize this dysfunction by rewarding heroic behavior in our individual-based performance management systems.
This could not be further from the “We” culture of collaborative leadership. We live in an interdependent world where nothing gets done by one person. We have to collaborate with others to achieve anything. Collaboration requires humble leaders who do not need to be put on a pedestal. They are interested in what is best for the people and the business overall. They know that collective action is required to achieve anything. Humble leaders also demonstrate these qualities:
- Principle-Based: They have an internal code of conduct, a set of core principles by which they run their lives
- Value People: They understand that the only way to achieve profit, productive, quality, or speed is through people
- Empathic: Their EQ is very high; they understand and appreciate the struggle others are going through, and are slow to judge but quick to appreciate
- Vulnerability: They are willing and able to share with others their own humanity, joys, hopes, concerns, and failings; they are open-minded and open-hearted
- Self-Reflective: They work from the inside out, reflecting on their behaviors, their impact on others, and can hold themselves accountable for what works and what doesn’t
Our 21st Century interdependent work world requires more than cowboys and heroic cult icons. It requires a generation of collaborative leaders who value relationship first and are humble in their dealings with others. It is this collective action that will enable organizations to achieve true greatness.