Humility key to effective leadership
We can actually become more humble if we focus on appreciating the strengths of others, on being teachable and admitting our mistakes, says the writer A Jagan Mohan Reddy
Humility is playing a role, any role, sans ego, whatever the role may be. Even if this were that of a driver. In all religions, there are very evident teachings towards humility
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.”
- C. S. Lewis
Humility is not only a virtue, but it's also a competitive advantage. According to research from the University Of Washington Foster School Of Business, humble people are more likely to be high performers in individual and team settings, and they also tend to make the most effective leaders. A recent Catalyst study showed that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included.
In a survey of more than 1500 workers from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico, and the U.S., Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib found that when employees observed altruistic or selfless behavior in their managers — a style characterized by 1) acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes); 2) empowering followers to learn and develop; 3) acts of courage, such as taking personal risks for the greater good; and 4) holding employees responsible for results — they were more likely to report feeling included in their work teams.
Let’s look at few leaders who combine business success with humility:
In the corporate world, Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, popularly known as JRD Tata, is the epitome of humility and humbleness. Despite JRD Tata being the founder of India's aviation industry and owner of the first airlines of the country, he travelled like a commoner. Pyarelal, of the music director-duo Lakshmikant–Pyarelal, fondly recollects an anecdote related to JRD. Pyarelal was at the airport, catching a flight to Tirupati.
He noticed JRD Tata standing in the security check queue in front of him, holding a briefcase in his hand. Pyarelal turned towards his son, Gautam and gave him his first lesson in humility. He pointed towards JRD Tata and said, 'This entire airport is his. He can walk into any of his private jets if he wants. But he still stands in queue like everyone else.'
What a stark contrast if compared to the current day celebrities who come to the hotels with their coterie and announce their arrival by their rude, boorish, and loud behaviour! Once, JRD Tata went to Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai to watch a cricket match. Since the stadium was under his ownership at that time, he walked up to the gate without a ticket. Seeing him dressed in simple attire, the guard failed to recognise him.
He did not allow JRD to enter the stadium since he did not possess a ticket. The great man, without speaking a word, quietly went around the gate and stood near the fence to watch the match. When one of the organisers noticed him, he rushed out and apologised to him. He wanted to fire the guard but JRD asked him not to do so since the guard was merely doing his duty. Nathan SV, the HR Leader at Deloitte, was to join a British Multinational in one of their plants in Gomia, Bihar as a Management Trainee.
When he alighted at Gomia he didn’t find anyone to receive him. But suddenly he saw a nice car with the driver in khaki shorts walking towards the car. So Nathan went up to him asking him to take him to the Guest House. Throughout the ride, driver asked him questions about his family etc., and Nathan responded in monosyllables, getting irritated with a driver, who spoke too much. Near the guest house, he alighted and a couple of the staff ran up to the car and saluted Nathan.
Next day he was to see the Chief Executive – Dr S K Varma and Nathan were nervous. When he was ushered into a corridor that led up to the room of Dr Varma, Nathan was in a shock, i.e., the man sitting over there in the chamber was none other than the driver in factory clothes. He said that he had come to the station to see off a friend. And he had seen Nathan and wanted to be of assistance.
And played along for he knew Nathan had mistaken him to be a driver. He offered Nathan tea and had a long conversation during which he said that outside of work one should not wear their education, only use them. As Nathan walked away, he learnt the greatest lesson in humility. Humility is playing a role, any role, sans ego, whatever the role may be. Even if this were that of a driver.
Our religions too teach
In all religions, there are very evident teachings towards humility but the fanatics of religion usually miss this very core teaching. For instance, the act of folding hands in prayer, in Hindu religion, is a teaching in humility as is the act of prostrating before the deity. Similarly, in Islam, there is the tradition of removing the footwear, and even assisting in washing the feet of other people in the mosque, before the prayer.
Not everyone is born humble. But humility, like other virtues, can be developed. We can actually become more humble if we focus on appreciating the strengths of others, on being teachable and admitting our mistakes. Resolve to work on your own humility and you'll begin to notice and appreciate its power all around you.
( The author can be reached at: drjaganmohanreddy @gmail.com)