Sit down, be humble

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Casey Bartholomew
  • 60th Civil Engineer Squadron

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – If I asked you to give me a list of words describing qualities you admire in a leader, what would be on it?  Perhaps honest, selfless, competent, dedicated, courageous, charismatic or empathetic easily make the list.  What about humble?  A word synonymous with others like meek, submissive, modest or undistinguished couldn’t possibly be on your list of top leadership qualities.  After all, who wants to follow an undistinguished leader?  I do and here are a few reasons why. 

First, showing some humility while interacting with others makes a leader more approachable and ultimately better able to establish mutual trust.  Having been part of many leadership teams within various organizations, I firmly believe people will only take advantage of the “open door policy” if they feel like the person offering the opportunity is approachable and genuine in their offer.  I know I personally have a hard time bringing up an issue to someone who I perceive as not having the time or seems uninterested in my perspective to begin with.  Leaders want their subordinates to be comfortable bringing up problems or sharing thoughts on how to make things better.  A dose of humility goes a long way in enabling an environment of mutual trust where that open feedback is possible.  

Another reason humble makes my list is because, by definition, a modest person refuses to seek out the limelight and take personal credit for an organization’s success.  A humble leader is quick to share or deflect the praise among others within the organization encouraging a team first mentality.  An organization that fosters a culture of teamwork will always outperform one that strictly focuses on individual recognition or gain.  A dose of humility goes a long way in fostering teamwork across an organization. 

The last reason I’ll leave you with is the fact that a humble leader doesn’t pretend to know it all.  I don’t think anyone has the ability to know everything especially in an organization as diverse as the Air Force.  I would assert that successful leaders are humble enough to acknowledge the fact that they don’t know everything and therefore, place their trust and confidence in others that do.  By doing so, a leader empowers others within the organization to be the best at whatever role they are placed in.  I can say from my experience that when I feel empowered I am quick to take responsibility for whatever task is at hand and will do my best not to disappoint.  A dose of humility goes a long way in empowering individuals across an organization. 

I hope by sharing this I’ve at least made you think about humility as a positive leadership trait.  One last thing I’ll offer is this excerpt from Simon Sinek’s book, “Leaders Eat Last” – “When a leader has the humility to distribute power across the organization, the strength of the company becomes less dependent on one person and is thus better able to survive.  In this model, instead of trying to command-and-control everything, the leaders devote all their energy to training, building and protecting their people so that the people can command and control any situation themselves.”