The undeniable benefits of humble leadership

When a more humble CEO leads the company, collaboration, information sharing, and a common purpose are likely to follow.
By: | April 18, 2019


About the Author
Avi Liran is the Managing Director of Delivering Delight, Singapore.

On 28th of January 2018, Ingvar Kamprad, the Swedish billionaire and founder of the Ikea furniture chain, passed away at the age of 91. He left more than the legacy of IKEA as a business and a concept behind, he also left his values of humility.

 “Being humble isn’t the same as keeping a low profile. If you have something important to say, say it. Being humble means admitting your weaknesses, and trying to put them right.” ~ Ingvar Kamprad

Humility is a vital competency in leadership. A study conducted in 2015, examined 105 mostly privately held SMEs in the ICT sector in the USA, revealed that when a more humble CEO leads the company, its top management team is more likely to collaborate, share information and subscribe to the organisations’ shared vision, thus improving performance over time.

In contrast to an arrogant leader who dictates decisions and often faces resistance, a humble leader is typically a better listener who values other people points of view, that inspires more openness, creativity and ability to jointly make decisions.

Another interesting finding was there was more equality of pay in organizations managed by humble leaders. Fairness contributes to greater trust and harmony among teams.


What humility brings to the table

In this Donald Trump era, humility can no longer be easily dismissed as a leadership quality. Humility is the antidote to arrogance, not a weakness, but a virtue. Humility requires substantial inner strength to take control of their needy ego and have the courage to resist the temptation of misusing the power that they possess.

Working for seven months to train the top leadership of Marina Bay Sands – the iconic integrated resort in Singapore – gave me the opportunity to work closely with Benny Zin, who was then the Chief Operating Officer.

In an interview Benny said: “My profession is managing people. Employees who do the actual work in the field often know better than you how to do a great job. I am not supposed to know better than they do. My job is to create a culture where everyone is encouraged to demonstrate and express their creative ideas and unique contributions. A safe zone to try new things without fearing to fail.”

Both Kamprad, Zin, and many other humble leaders expected in return that followers will take ownership, learn fast, retry, apply the learning rapidly and avoid blame and shame.

When they feel that they have the autonomy to try new approaches improve work, it encourages them to bring more of themselves to work. Within these 7 months of joint work, MBS had moved from 140th place on TripAdvisor to 36th.

Humble leaders ultimately create and cultivate an environment of trust that invites honest feedback, essential criticism.

An atmosphere of a collective, supported by the leader rather than being self-serving, promoting diversity of opinions, creativity, a spirit of innovations, greater loyalty, higher engagement, and better performance.

Key questions to consider:

  • Are you a humble leader?
  • What are your top 5 personal core values and how do you role-model them?
  • How close are your personal values aligned with your organizational values?
  • Do the senior leaders in your organization role model humble, prudent and generous behaviours?
  • What leadership stories are told in your organization? Are they focused on heroic individual results or do they emphasize humility, empowerment, generosity, and kindness?