Humility at Work

14 Mar 2019 | by Peter Neale


I once attended a job interview where the Headteacher told me “we operate a one-man one-vote system at this school, Peter.  And I am that one man.”

Arrogance can get you far in life, but it won’t always make you popular and it won’t always get things done.  Some leaders and managers would do well to accept that it’s not all about them, especially in a school.  Needless to say, I wasn’t too disappointed when he didn’t offer me a job.

There are many different styles of leadership and management, some of which are more effective than others.  One style this particular Headteacher will not have adopted, I would be prepared to wager, is humility.

Humility is not weakness. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, “humility is not thinking less of yourself: it’s thinking of yourself less” or, as Morrissey once sang (when he was still worth listening to) “it takes strength to be gentle and kind.”  The best leaders will inspire those around them with a dynamic personality and a clear vision, and those who also act with humility will not seek to impose themselves by acting in an intimidating or bullying manner.  This was exemplified by Gareth Southgate when unexpectedly leading the England football team to the World Cup semifinals last year.  

There are several ways in which leaders and managers who display humility are successful and effective at work:







They put people first

They listen, ask questions and are approachable.  They understand that they do not have a monopoly on good ideas, they are interested in opinions and use empathy to help those around them develop their own effectiveness.

Their door is open, and they create an environment of clear communication and effective feedback.  They realise that they can’t do everything and recognise the strengths of others.  They share information and delegate responsibility because the work is more important than their ego. 


They admit their mistakes

They are not afraid to fail, and do not associate humility with humiliation.  When something goes wrong, they don’t waste energy holding a witch-hunt or deflecting blame but instead, by involving others, they find the best way forward and move on. 

They are reflective and learn through experience.  Humility helps make others feel important, inspires loyalty and builds better relationships.  Vulnerability builds trust.


They are authentic

Within reason, humble leaders and managers maintain objective judgement in every situation.

A humble leader should not be mistaken for a weak one.  They are perfectly capable of making tough decisions and carrying them through.  Easily offended people don’t build strong teams.

So, how do you join in and practice humility at work?  Try starting by modelling good behaviour; consciously treating others with respect and valuing their contributions.  Stop seeking out more power but instead seek more ways to help others.  Be willing to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in when necessary.  Remember that your team will look to you to set the standard.

#bethechange, as @ShropshireSBM Hayley Dunn would say.