Building Great Leaders

Why Humble CEOs do Better (and How You Can Train for Humility at Work)

When you think about great leaders, what personality traits come to mind? Probably admirable characteristics such as charisma, leadership skills, excellent communication skills, and personal drive. But one trait that you might not consider is one that doesn’t always get a lot of respect: Humility.

As it turns out, humility might be more important for CEOs than you thought. According to a 2014 study by Arizona State University, humble CEOs kept satisfied managers who reported feeling more engaged, more confident, and more motivated to collaborate than those who worked for less humble CEOs.

In short, the more humble the CEO, the better it was for business.

Unfortunately, humility—while being a desirable trait in the office—isn’t exactly top-of-mind when planning corporate training. In fact, it might seem like more of a personality trait and less of a workplace tool. Nonetheless, it is possible to reap the benefits of a humble culture by encouraging collaboration, questioning, and a less rigid hierarchy at work. Here’s how.

1. Listen up.

When you manage others, you should do more listening than talking. While some might believe the ability to issue directives makes a good leader, true leaders know that they need t0 hear what employees are saying and be open to suggestions, ideas, and collaboration. Encourage your managers and employees to be willing to listen to those around them.

2. Ask questions.

Not sure about an idea? Ask. It’s a simple concept, but in a corporate climate where any lack of knowledge might seem like a weakness, employees, managers, and CEOs don’t always ask questions when they should. Remind colleagues that their best sources of knowledge are each other and they should ask questions when they don’t have an answer.

3. Seek feedback.

No one wants to hear that they’re falling short, but how else can you ever expect to improve? Asking employees to actively solicit feedback from coworkers, managers, and supervisors will pinpoint places for improvement (and being humble enough to admit that improvement is possible). It doesn’t have to be a formal evaluation; a simple “how am I doing?” can help employees recalibrate and refocus for better results.

4. Admit and apologize.

Everyone makes mistakes, from the highest CEO to the lowest entry-level position. In a humble workplace culture, however, employees know that there’s no harm in admitting fault and apologizing for any damage. Doing this will let you catch errors and move on quickly, rather than encouraging employees to hide their mistakes (which can cause future issues).

5. Compliment others’ strengths.

It can be tough for employees to admit that they aren’t top dog, especially when ambition and pride are added to the mix. A humble person can see the strengths in others and learn how to harness them for the greater good. Humility causes employees and managers alike to recognize that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and there’s no shame in admitting that someone else could tackle a project more efficiently and creatively.

It may be the most understated of all leadership traits, but humility goes a long way in creating a collaborative workplace culture. Humble CEOs affect organizations from the top down, teaching employees that everyone is in it together –  no matter if it’s a Fortune 500 companyor a small organization. While it’s true that humility is hard to teach, it’s easy to model for big results.