Humility is Necessary for Leaders

“Humility is the cornerstone of leadership.” –John G. Miller

The word “leadership” brings to mind several adjectives: action-oriented, outgoing, visionary, confident, competent, problem-solving, and responsible.

However, I would argue the most important quality in a leader is humility. But what is humility and what does it look like?

Firstly, let’s start with what humility is not. Humility is not…

  • Weakness.
  • Avoidance.
  • Being a push-over.
  • Quietness.
  • Indecisiveness.
  • Introversion.

What humility is…

There are many definitions of humility, but I really like this one from The Oxford Review:

Humility “is a stable characteristic of accuracy of self-perception and the ability to have perspective on oneself at any moment in time.”

In other words, humility is one’s accurate sense and awareness of self.

Furthermore, The Oxford Review has identified traits of humility and the lack of humility in leaders.

Leaders with these factors indicate a lack of humility:

  • Narcissistic/self-admiring traits
  • A cynical view of humans and the desire to get ahead no matter who it may hurt
  • Low self-esteem
  • Defensiveness

Conversely, there are two factors which predict humility:

What does humility look like in the workplace?

It is easy for leaders to fall into arrogance instead of remaining open to humility. This is because leadership is stressful. Leaders can feel enormous amounts of pressure to “get the job done.” Additionally, leaders tend to know what they’re doing, so they may succumb to the temptation to “go it alone.”

Even so, studies consistently show the benefits on leaders, employees, and companies of humble leaders. These benefits include employee retention, higher levels of trust, and profitability.

So, how can leaders move from arrogance to humility?


  • Not my fault.
  • Does not listen or listens to respond.
  • Interrupts.
  • Wants to be right.
  • “My way or the highway.”
  • Pushes own points through.
  • Often frustrated or angry.
  • Avoids accountability.
  • Builds a culture of fear.


  • Admits mistakes.
  • Listens to understand, not to respond.
  • Gives space to others.
  • Keeps an open mind.
  • Embraces differences.
  • Considers ideas of others.
  • Practices patience.
  • Takes ownership.
  • Builds a culture of learning.

Essentially, arrogant leaders lead from a pedestal whereas humble leaders lead from the floor. Consider your own leadership style. Do you see yourself in the “arrogant” side? If so, ask a trusted someone to help you work on your humility.

Thanks for reading,

DeAnne Negley, T-LMHC, NCC

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