Leadership without humility is coercion

Jim Collins in his “Good to Great” work, identified the highest level of leadership as having 2 critical traits; Personal Humility and Professional Will.

Knowing this, how do we go about building these traits within ourselves?

I have heard that the 2 traits that almost very business owner has are Arrogance and Paranoia. If that is truly the case, then no wonder why there are so few highly effective leaders along small business owners. Arrogance and humility are completely opposite each other.

Being arrogant may have given the individual the professional will to create, but how do you separate out the arrogance and end up with both the will and humility?

Let’s first look at what humility really is.



a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.

“he needs the humility to accept that their way may be better”

synonyms:          modesty, humbleness, modestness, meekness, lack of pride, lack of vanity, diffidence, unassertiveness

Now let’s look at the definition of Leadership


noun: leadership

the action of leading a group of people or an organization.

Leading is not doing, leading is motivation others to do, effective leading is applying humility to your role as a leader. Leading without humility is not leading at all, it is coercion. Without being humble a leader would tell everyone in his team that my way is the best way ever created and that there will never be a better way. I understand that the leader may know what is best, but to get a team to accept what is best, they should be the ones that come up with the solution, not the leader.

Here are 10 keys to becoming a Humble Leader:

  1. Accept your role
    1. If you are a leader, then lead. Don’t direct, coerce, threaten, or manage, lead.
  2. Learn from everyone
    1. Everyone has something to offer, everyone has certain unique skills, talents and knowledge, find it and learn from it.
  3. Find the best is others
    1. Everyone wants to be doing what they are best at, but sometimes, people end up in positions that do not match their highest and best skills.
  4. Ask for feedback
    1. Get in the habit of asking “how can I do better”
  5. Give credit to your team
    1. If your goal is to lead, then all the work comes from your team members, so give the credit where credit is due.
  6. Take responsibility for all failures
    1. At the end of the day, failures will happen, and someone should take responsibility, and that someone should be you.
  7. Be interested, not just interesting
    1. It is easy to want to be the center of attention, but leadership is about building people and that will never happen by talking, get in the habit of being interested in your people, their likes, wants and aspirations.
  8. Ask follow-up questions
    1. People know if you care by the level of questions you ask. Ask superficial questions and your people will know you are superficial. Ask deeper, caring questions and your people will know you care.
  9. Give your people your time
    1. Leadership is not about being in the biggest office, your people want to see you, they want to know that you know who they are, what they do and that it makes a difference.
  10. Commit to be better
    1. At the heart of leadership and humility is the idea that there is a better version of yourself out there and you are on a quest to find it.

My favorite Leadership / Humility example is from Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines and one of the most beloved leaders of our time; Every Christmas eve you could find Herb in one of his call centers, visiting with his employees one by one. Sitting next to them near their cubicle asking them about their families, sharing how much he appreciated what they did for the company. Herb could have been with his family, and in his mind, he was. His people were family and they knew it.

Make being a humble leader your goal. You company will thrive, and you just might become a better person as a result.


SBO Advocates

Phil Berry