Humility in Leadership

Humility in Leadership

Nicole Malachowski |

Taking on a leadership role is exciting. The greatest honor of my career was serving as the commander of the 333rd Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson AFB, NC. In that role, I led the finest cadre of experienced Instructor Aircrew in our F-15E community. Our mission was to train incoming fledgling aviators to be ready for their first operational fighter squadron assignments. I was essentially leading leaders! What a joy and a privilege. As I took command, I leaned on the example of some great leaders I’d had in the past and noticed a common character trait amongst them: humility. As I look back on my career, it is my hope that I demonstrated humility in my leadership roles. I know, as an imperfect human being, I am not always successful at every turn. But I have learned a valuable lesson along the way: be humble, or be humbled.   

Humility is integral to the successful leadership of a team. Here are some ways you can practice humility in your leadership position:   

Be approachable – You need your team to feel comfortable telling you anything, good and bad. It could be an idea for process improvement, it could be that they noticed a problem that needs attention, or it could be that they have a personal item to discuss. No matter what it is, you need to be approachable to keep your team running smoothly.   

Acknowledge mistakes – Everyone makes mistakes, including leaders! Acknowledge yours and apologize if necessary. When your employees see that you understand that mistakes happen, they will be forthcoming with theirs. This will help you address concerns in advance instead of having to discover them later, have your employee panic and try to cover something up, or set you up to have to fix an issue that’s been simmering for far too long.  

Be open to feedback – Allow your employees to give you feedback about the job, the process and even about your management style. It doesn’t mean that you must change or take their suggestions every time, but feedback can often help you become a better leader. It leads to increased self-awareness and nurtures the art of self-reflection.  

Show appreciation – No one wants to work for a leader that doesn’t acknowledge and appreciate their efforts. Show your appreciation through shout-outs, bonuses, recognition programs, positive reviews, raises or other incentives. For small tasks, a simple “thank you” can actually go a long way.   

Empower your team – Micromanaging puts too much pressure on leaders, delays processes, stresses out others, and doesn’t allow employees to grow. Entrust your team with decisions that are appropriate for their level of responsibility and accountability. If you feel that you would have made another decision, have a discussion that allows your employee to explain their reasoning and then share why you might have made another choice. You can both learn from each other’s insights. Many times, you’ll see they have an even better idea or approach than you.  

Practice active listening – Isn’t it annoying when someone ignores your input or constantly interrupts you? Don’t do that to your team. When an employee comes to you with something, give them your full focus and actively listen to what they are sharing.   

Invest in continued learning – Helping your team grow, as individuals and collectively, is a major part of being an impactful leader. Take continued learning opportunities alongside your team. It demonstrates there is always room to sharpen skills, or establish new ones.   

Work in progress – Recognize that you and your leadership journey are a work in progress. You won’t get everything right, and that’s okay. You can always go back, acknowledge, and try to fix, any mistakes you make. Give yourself some grace as you hone your own leadership style and expertise.   

Humility in leadership can facilitate getting the finest work from your team. It can help them become more productive, it builds trust, and encourages the development of innovative ideas. Bottom line, a culture of humility drives improved team performance.  


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