“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” –Mahatma Gandhi
Leadership is a vast topic. The types of leadership skills range from the one identified by Kurt Lewin’s team in 1939 to numerous other patterns of leadership styles discovered by researcher Bernard M. Bass in the 1970s to Hersey and Blanchard’s leadership styles. But an element of leadership that most people overlook is humility. Even to this day, leadership to many wrongly equates to power and charisma. I believe a leader who uses his charisma and dupes his crowd is the most dangerous of all leaders.
So how does humility make one a great leader? We notice time and again the wisest among us are the ones who listen and want to learn more, not the ones who think they already know enough. The idea that the knowledge we possess is little leads to more learning, acquiring knowledge, and decision-making skills. My blog post on Outcome Bias touches on the topic of the consequences of overconfidence and lack of humility.
Modern times have seen a lot of discussion on high self-esteem and positive affirmations. And as much I agree to the idea that self-esteem and positive affirmations are important in our lives, we must also leave some room for healthy humility, that will help keep us grounded to reality. Healthy humility will help create a chamber in our heart to hear and help understand the deprived, the disadvantaged, the have-nots. It will help us recognize at least a fraction of racism. Racism not only stems from institutional and structural dynamics but also interpersonal biases. Growing this human trait of humility leads to a better understanding of structural racism that can be tied to the history of American slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. It is important for the privileged to understand why people behave a certain way, or what role hundreds of years of oppression plays in modern racism. Increasing our humility will also help in understanding certain disparities in health, education, and occupation that create major socio-economic disadvantages in society.
It is unfair and biased for the privileged to only see the repercussion of the deprived because of the aftermath of years and years of domination. Exposure and cultural awareness will help increase humility that will help us understand the behavior and conduct of minorities that are disadvantaged. This will also slow the “quick to judge” attitude towards the oppressed. This may lead to a properly conceptualized reasoning that will include nonracial dimensions of inequality. Merely trying to understand racism and discrimination is just a small start to thoughtful and strategic planning that is needed in society today.
A good leader, from any segment of the society, will take an initiative to slow their pace and recognize aspects of racism that may not be overtly distinct. Humility and being a good listener will help identify these aspects in the society we live in, the community that we associate with and the organization that we work for.
Hamna Siddique is a coach specializing in career, business, and leadership coaching.
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