After several weeks of being promoted to the position of Vice-President, it went to his head. He bragged to anyone who would listen that he was now a Vice-President at the company. His bragging, however, stopped quickly when his wife made the comment that everyone these days is a Vice-President of something. She even mentioned there was a Vice-President of peas at the local grocery store. Her husband was incredulous, so he called the store asking for the Vice-President of peas, when he was asked “which one, fresh or frozen” he promptly hung up.

While many leaders are egotistical by nature, humility and leadership have always existed well together. Leadership expert Dan Cable, professor of Organizational Behavior at the London Business School, discussed humility in his recent book Alive at Work. His research addressed the dichotomy of leadership with reference to power and humility. Leaders who exerted their power as a motivator ended up instilling fear in their staff. Those who exhibited humility communicated and conveyed a level of encouragement for employees to do their very best.

Irrespective of the type of leadership style you exhibit, the key objective in being a leader is to bring out the absolute best in all of your employees. If you cannot do that, your role is meaningless.

In a recent article for the Harvard Business Review, Cable discusses the old style of top-down leadership and how it is ineffective. He cited a study of a food delivery service that utilized that type of leadership.They were “becoming increasingly metric-drive in an effort to reduce costs and improve delivery time. Each week, managers held weekly performance debriefs with drivers and went through a list of problems, complaints, and errors with a clipboard and pen.” Needless to say, the drivers did not take the sessions well. They resented being treated in that manner and without question, the company suffered as a result of the approach.

As more and more competitors entered the food delivery services sector, the company found itself in the tenuous position of having to reinvent itself. Fortunately, it was able to revamp the weekly meetings to be more servant minded in their treatment of the staff by asking questions such as “How can I help you deliver excellent service?” Cable goes on to report “There was huge skepticism at the beginning, as you can imagine. Drivers dislike of managers was high, and trust was low….”. Ultimately, management was able to win over the drivers, allowing both sides, managers and drivers to see that it is the employees who actually do the work of the organization know how to do a better job than the managers. It is the role of the servant manager to encourage the employees to try new ways of working and to bring out the best in the employees.

In another study by Cable, an international company in the financial sector learned about cultural expectations and the reality of humble leadership. Cable goes on to say this about a new manager by the name of Jungkiu Choi. “He learned that one of the cultural expectations of his new job was to visit the branches and put pressure on branch managers to cut costs.” While all along “Branch staff would spend weeks anxiously preparing for the visit.”

“Jungkiu changed the nature of these visits. Instead of emphasizing his formal power, he started showing up at branches unannounced, starting his visit by serving breakfast to the branch employees.” Then he would “hold ‘huddles’ and ask how he could help employees improve their branches. Many branch employees were very surprised and initially did not know how to react. But Jungkiu’s approach tamped down employees’ anxiety and encouraged ideation and innovative ideas.” After one year of his efforts, Jungkiu was able to identify many areas of improvement within the company and develop several new initiatives that were groundbreaking for his industry.

If employees can be encouraged to feel as though they have a purpose for their work, they will be motivated to perform better on the job. If they are motivated by the job, usually their energy levels will also increase.

Author Cable summarizes humble leadership very succinctly when he says “To put it bluntly, servant-leaders have the humility, courage, and insight to admit that they can benefit from the expertise of others who have less power than them. They actively seek the ideas and unique contributions of the employees that they serve.” What a great way to grow your business with humility and leadership. 

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