[October 19, 2013] Humility is defined several ways. However, the meanings used today lead to confusion, especially when employed to describe a leader. First, it can mean lack of confidence or timidity. Or second, it can mean to be humble, lacking pretence, not believing you are superior to others.
In some cultures, the language separates the meanings but not so in English. For our purposes, the latter definition is used. The confusion is unfortunate because it is a constant irritation as it incorrectly implies weakness when describing “humble” leaders.
“Successful senior leaders blend extreme personal humility with intense professional will.” – Unknown
My personal experience on the battlefield is that the best senior leaders gave credit to others, never to themselves. They talk about the troops and the heroic nature of those efforts and their determination and strength. Those senior leaders have a ferocious doggedness and fortitude to do what it takes to make the military and its mission a success. They never aspire to be named a hero or elevated above others. They have humility.
Humility is basic trait of all great senior leaders. General Douglas MacArthur, despite his aloof leadership style, was still humble. To be truly great like MacArthur, a senior leader must have a good understanding of one’s self and the force of will to ensure the mission is completed.
A peer of General MacArthur, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is the epitome of humility. In the case of Eisenhower, it is much easier to see the differences between these two men. Nevertheless, both Eisenhower and MacArthur were humble servants of our country.
Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends. — Dwight D. Eisenhower
The best and brightest of senior leaders know what they need to be successful. They recognize that they cannot attain success without the achievements of others. Humility attracts people to them and it is those people that actually do the hard work to fulfill the mission.
Consequently, it is the combination of humility and force of will that are the key ingredients for the best senior leaders. This is a secret that will take your organization from good to great.