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Arrogance Could Kill Your Business. Humble Leadership Makes It Thrive.

Do you remember Nokia? I sure do. Nokia was all the rage. I remember begging my parents incessantly to get me the latest Nokia phone just for bragging rights amongst friends. Nokia was the envy of every other phone company at that time. It was the king of the hill for a decade. Having a Nokia phone was so cool that it had a special appearance in one of the biggest sci-fi movies of all time:  The Matrix. The mobile phone company even brought back the Nokia Matrix phone in 2018.

So what happened to Nokia? They had everything. They had market share and they had a reputation. Hubris. Hubris is what happened. They never saw the iPhone as competition. They became too confident in their dominance in the mobile phone industry. Nokia is just one example though. In recent years, more leaders are sacrificing their companies’ growth because of their ego and arrogance.

There is a lot of talk about empathy, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution, which is all well and good. They are certainly important. But somewhere in the crowd, the worth of humility has been lost. We, at CMA, think this has happened because of what many perceive humility to be. It has been associated with unassertiveness and weakness. In reality, humility is needed in every leader. Humility in service of ambition is the most effective and sustainable mindset for leaders who aspire to do big things in a world filled with huge unknowns.

Humility is the middle ground between arrogance and a lack of self-confidence. It has recently been defined as a dispositional quality of a person – whether that person is a leader or an employee – that reflects ‘a self-view that something greater than the self exists’ (Ou et al. 2014, p. 37). In fact, considering the major adjustments and modifications that may be occurring within your organization in response to the pandemic, it is imperative for your entire organization to cultivate humility. People are steadily feeling detached from their organizations while dealing with mounting workloads, accompanying burnout and family situations. There is a shift to remote work, hybrid work, and returning to the office. Organizations need to be more sensitive to how these changes may impact employees, and humble leadership can play a crucial role in assisting your employees through the transition.

Action Behaviours to Cultivate Humility and Humble Leadership

  • Improve self-awareness

Seek diverse feedback often

Acknowledge limitations and strengths

Acknowledge others’ strengths and contributions

Acknowledge mistakes and apologize when wrong

  • Instill a culture of learning

Encourage a growth mindset

Encourage others to take on challenging responsibilities

Hold self accountable for developing future or current leaders

Seek out learning experiences and encourage others to do the same

  • Employee recognition

Celebrate successes

Do not micromanage

Offer personalized perks

Create an employee recognition program

  • Be more tolerant of mistakes in pursuit of innovation

Embrace the possibility of failure

Allow employees to pursue their passions

Seek creative ideas from all levels and diverse backgrounds

Provide the environment and tools needed to foster innovation

  • Encourage transparency

Nurture psychological safety in the workplace

Give employees information and context in a timely manner

Have face-to-face interactions with employees when possible, especially for crucial conversations

It is quite possible that things would have turned out differently for Nokia, if they would have cultivated some humble leadership. Humble leaders are not weak nor are they regressive. Quite the contrary. As they recognize their own weakness and are inclusive of the ideas of others, they become powerful. They champion innovation whilst they connect with others on a human level. They can attract and retain customers so much easier because of some good, humble leadership.