In Jim Collins iconic book, Good to Great, he sets about to benchmark all U.S. corporations to discover which had made the leap from being a good company to being a great company. Collins did his study based on a set of rigid standards used to measure a number of financial and other criteria.
After an exhaustive study, Collins was able to identify twelve companies that made the leap from being a good company to a great company—an elite group. Then Collins began to study his list of twelve to discover what attributes the twelve held in common.
One of Collins discoveries was all twelve companies had a CEO who possessed very similar attributes. Despite having very different personalities and experiences, they all had four characteristics that were exactly the same. Each of the twelve CEO’s had as their number one attribute the virtue of humility. Number two, each took no credit for their own contributions but instead gave away all credit to others. Third, they took responsibility for failures, casting no blame nor making any excuses. Finally, they were able to focus on the one thing that separated their company from others—the one thing they could do better than anyone else.
Humility is a habit of virtue in that it does not come naturally to us—we must practice and develop it into a habit. Our nature is to be interested in and singularly focused on ourselves. Humility is to put aside self to focus on the service of others. It can only be developed by thinking about ourselves less and others more.
Why is humility a foundational attribute for effective leaders and why does it increase our influence with others? Why does it make us better leaders? What does it look like in practice? C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about leaders with humility. According to Lewis, humble leaders:
Acknowledge they do not have it all together
Seek to add value to others
Give away all the credit
Filled with gratitude
If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not always be telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually putting the attention on themselves). Instead, the thing we would remember most from meeting a truly humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. There is an important principle of human interaction that says, “People do not care what you know until they know that you care.” And the way we communicate we care is to think of ourselves less, learn and listen more, and put others first. Great leaders influence others trough their humility—we are drawn to it.