Humble leadership

The other day at a meeting with students, one of the questions they asked was what qualities I thought were most important for leading teams. I thought about it for a while and told them: “In my humble opinion, humility”. Some laughed, because of the redundancy… but everyone immediately understood why I chose humility among all the virtues.

In a scenario like the current one, which is anything but stable, predictable and simple (we all know we live in VUCA times), I believe that the ability to recognize one’s own mistakes, highlight the potential of others and set a good example are vital behaviors for a company to develop and all three are the basis of effective and humble leadership.

The essence of humility

In my view, a humble leader listens, engages and strives to build trust and closeness. They make room for others. They don’t settle down and get comfortable but are always looking to improve. They allow themselves to be taught and ask for help. They’re flexible. They value the work, effort and success of others. They go out of their way to be empathetic. They connect as well as communicate. They don’t forget where they come from. They respect everyone’s opinion. They’re familiar with the entire company and know what everyone’s doing because they walk around, observe, ask questions and share ideas. They lend a helping hand whenever necessary. They seek to enhance talent. They create and are devoted to their team. They own their mistakes and make corrections in order to achieve the common goal. Nobody’s perfect and no one knows how to do everything, so they recognize their mistakes and welcome constructive criticism. I’ve always believed that the best humble leaders have a confident and calm inner self because they know themselves and see every day as an opportunity to improve.

Opportunity to improve

In fact, this may be the key to developing a humble style of leadership that many of us crave and that we try (at least I do) to integrate as much as possible in our way of doing things. The crux lies in learning the lessons from failures and conflicts in order to continue improving. We must learn from the past but continue to move steadfastly forward: 85% of the time and effort must be dedicated to propose and implement solutions and 15% to examine what has happened in order to make decisions.  Being a leader with humility requires conscience, heart, will, reasoning and sacrifice; to be critical with oneself, tolerance, to know how to listen, to put the focus on people and to have the capacity of observation. Ernest Hemingway said that “the secret of wisdom, power and knowledge is humility.” Wise words. We still have a lot to learn. Something I read that made an impact on me is: “surround yourself with great people and they will make you great…”

Sergio Martínez Campos

CEO, Hispano Suiza