This one trait shared by many great leaders might surprise you — Part 1

Humility corresponds with effective leadership, but it isn’t often the first thing that comes to mind when we think of a typical leader.

Before you continue reading, take 10 seconds and write down a few traits you think make people great leaders.

For many people, the ideal characteristics that make a leader a great one include things that exude power, with traits such as a high level of self-confidence, good communication skills, charisma, creativity and being a “visionary thinker.” Would you be surprised to learn that a trait often viewed as being “weak” is actually something many great leaders possess? While some people may think of humility and being humble as traits that reflect weakness and lowliness, research shows it is in fact a virtue that helps leaders be the most effective and powerful in their efforts.

Andrew Morris and his colleagues defined humility as “a personal orientation founded on a willingness to see the self accurately and a propensity to put oneself in perspective.” This means that those who practice humility have an accurate perception of their own strengths and weaknesses, are open to new ideas and ways of thinking. They are able to view themselves, and their own thoughts and ideas, from the other perspectives.

In their 2005 article, “Bringing humility to leadership: Antecedents and consequences of leader humility,” Morris and his colleagues, identified six individual differences corresponding to low or high levels of humility that were shown to be predictors of leadership behavioral outcomes. The researchers demonstrated that individuals with high levels of narcissistic personality traits, (defines as “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one's own talents and a craving for admiration) were likely to have low levels of humility. Those with high levels of humility were found to have behaviors that help individuals to be effective and respected leaders. They found that higher levels of leader humility was predictive of increased supportiveness towards others, the use of power to achieve shared goals (rather than the personal goals of the leader), and the encouragement of the participation of others in leadership and decision making.

In their research, Morris and his colleagues also found that leaders with high levels of humility are more likely to use their power for the benefit of everyone involved (rather than just for themselves) and that they encourage the involvement of others in decision making. While these traits would benefit any group being led by a person practicing humble leadership, the value of this type of leader has been identified specifically in businesses and corporations. This makes it a valuable skill for those entering the workforce and hoping to be in positions of leadership.

Jim Collins and his colleagues demonstrated through their research into corporate leadership that the type of business leader most able to take their company from “good to great” were those leaders who build “enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus personal will.”

In his bestselling book on the topic, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't,” Collins refers to this type of leadership, interestingly, as “Level 5 Leadership.” Level 5 leaders are those who are driven to achieve the goals of an organization or group, and do so in a manner that serves and engages others.

To learn some of the ways leaders can use humility to lead their group or organization to a successful outcome, continue reading Part 2 of this article.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.”

Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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