#WorkTrends: Why We Need More Humble Leaders

Nearly everyone has worked for an egomaniacal boss; by the end of this sentence you’ll be picturing yours in the back of your head. That’s hardly ever a pleasant experience, but it highlights what good leadership should look like, says Bill Treasurer, chief encouragement officer at Giant Leap Consulting and co-author of the new book “The Leadership Killer.”

On this week’s episode of #WorkTrends, Treasurer shares his experience in building successful leadership roles and culture, and why humility is the key to it all.

We also talk to Jonathan Richards, the CEO of breatheHR, who has a company culture pledge you can use to make your staff and values more impactful.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Hubris and the First Rule of Leadership

Treasurer says the biggest risk to companies from their leadership is hubris, often called arrogance. It’s overconfidence mixed with an inflated ego that becomes a danger to itself and especially to the people that the person is leading.

“Most of us, by the middle of life, have worked with a leader that we wouldn’t care to work for again, and nearly always it comes down to the arrogance that that leader has,” Treasurer says.

Arrogance and that feeling of knowing everything without needing input or guidance from anyone else is often the root of many business problems, he says. This can include leaders who are incompetent, intimidating and ungracious. Treasurer says this violates the first rule of leadership: “Leadership’s not about the leader. It’s about the people being led.”

You’re in the Sandbox Too

Being humble and ditching the ego can help people achieve one very important aspect of leadership: Being a good role model for the rest of us and being someone we aspire to be like. That also means passing the “authenticity detectors” of people on your team or in a meeting, Treasurer says.

“They also have to play nice in the sandbox,” he says. “They have to be able to bring people with them so that people want to follow them. And that means not alienating people.”

Humility Sets the Team Up for Success

Much of Treasurer’s work involves creating leadership training that’s designed to build stronger teams and companies. He says he has learned a few surprising lessons, including about what people expect their legacy as a leader to be.

“When I do these leadership programs, I often will ask people at the beginning of the program, ‘What is it that you’re wanting to get done with your leadership? Like if you’re able to project out 20 years from now and you’re looking back to your career as a leader, what do you hope will have happened?’

“And the most common answer that I hear is that they have created other leaders. That they’ve left a legacy of pulling out the leadership in others,” Treasurer says.

He’s also heard the exact opposite, where someone says their personal experience and expertise is what the rest of the program attendees need to hear. That goes over about as well as “a big thing of stale cheese.”

Ask for the Best Way to Disagree

Not everyone is blessed with a truly humble boss, but Treasurer says you shouldn’t just throw your hands up if that’s the case. There’s a lot of arrogance in the world, and you’re going to run into it at some point. What you can do, he says, is start by establishing a personal relationship with that boss.

That relationship should be followed by learning what your leader’s goals are and what results they’re seeking. “That’s what leaders fixate on, and that’s what bosses fixate on,” he says. “And then when you see a behavior that you think is out of check, you should go to them and express to them how that behavior is impeding their results and connect it to their goal and goal attainment. And if their own behavior is, in fact, inhibiting their ability to get to their goal faster, then they’re going to pay a lot more attention.”

Be diplomatic and ask about the best way to provide feedback that you think will help, he says. “Say, ‘Give me some coaching. What’s the best way to disagree with you in a way that your ears will be receptive to it and not see it as disrespect?’ ”

Common ground requires coaching from your boss as well as the ability to help them be accountable.

Pledge to Make It Part of Company Culture

Treasurer’s thoughts on being a humble boss dovetail nicely with our discussion with breatheHR’s Richards about how companies can support their workforce by committing to establishing a strong culture. He says a company pledge can build a strong rapport with a workforce and even help them get behind leadership.

Taking a pledge to improve company culture is a way to start communication between staff and leadership. “So [leaders] should go out and listen to what their people are saying. They should ask some good questions and then just start listening,” Richards says.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

Let’s continue the conversation. Join us on Twitter (#WorkTrends) for our weekly chat on Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, 10:30 a.m. Pacific, or anywhere in the world you are joining from to discuss this topic and more.