Office of Culture and Experience

Leading with Humility

June 22, 2016 • Coaching, Leadership, OPD

I have learned that in the context of leadership if you are not learning you are not leading. Every experience is an opportunity to learn to improve performance the next time. A leader must have humility to learn from their team members and their experiences. Leaders who practice humility understand that the organization is successful because of the efforts of their direct reports, not solely the leader’s actions.

Humility does not always come easily for leaders who are developed in environments with clear answers to problems. In ambiguous environments, it takes courage, strength, and confidence to embrace uncertainty.

Leading with humility requires a learner/ growth mindset. Leaders in the learner mindset are focused on looking for creative solutions. In the book, “Leading with questions: How leaders find the right solutions by knowing what to ask,” Michael Marquardt writes that leaders in the learner mindset “tend to be optimistic, and to presuppose new possibilities, a hopeful future, and sufficient resources.” These types of leaders seek to understand the past as a way of guiding actions in the future. A learning mindset indicates that the leader is also dependent on the subordinate leader to accomplish his/her mission for the greater collective good of the organization.

The HBR piece titled “The Best Leaders are Humble Leaders,” shares some ways that we as leaders can lead with humility:

  • Share your mistakes as teachable moments.
  • Engage in dialogue, not debates.
  • Embrace uncertainty.
  • Role model being a “follower.”

If you want to become a more humble leader, ask yourself this question “Are my strengths accompanied by humility? Do I keep my ego in check so that I can learn from my mistakes and appreciate the strengths and value of others?”

Your response could be a topic for coaching as you strive to become a better leader.

-Jonathan Silk


Marquardt, M. (2014). Leading with questions: How leaders find the right solutions by knowing what to ask. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Prime, J. and Salib, E. (2014).  The best leaders are humble leaders.  Harvard Business Review.