From Hubris to Humility

Susan was a rising star when she was hired to be the new Head of School. She had a stellar resume. She was smart, outgoing and savvy. She gave evidence that she understood the new community; its culture, its people and its traditions. Articulate and charming, Susan seemed leader like. She had all the qualities that we normally think of in a leader. Her confidence and charisma served her well…until it didn’t.

By the second year into her tenure, trouble appeared to be brewing with Susan’s ability to lead the organization. Her direct reports began to find her self absorbed. She articulated a vision for the school but it grew from her own self-promoting ideas. While her ideas were good and well researched, she gave little time for others to share their visions and ideas. The parent community began to see her as arrogant and self absorbed; giving little attention to their hopes and dreams for their children and community. The faculty in the school began to see her as one who talked a good talk, but didn’t take the time to establish a relationship with them and gave little public acknowledgement of the good work they were doing.

She seemed leader - like
— School Parent

Susan’s story is not unique. By the third year of her tenure, the Board decided it was time to part ways. The folks around her all pointed to one major flaw in her otherwise leader like qualities — humility.

Her charisma and charm got in the way of her being an effective leader. It served her well throughout her career as she climbed the ladder of successful promotions but by not paying attention to the attributes of a humbler leader, Susan’s career was derailed. I didn’t have to be this way.

Studies by the researchers at Hogan Assessments show that leaders who demonstrate high levels of charm, charisma and confidence are at risk of getting derailed by not paying attention to humility. If a leader doesn’t know how to admit mistakes, doesn’t give credit to others on the team and doesn’t engage in deep listening to the needs and ideas within the organization, their strength as a leader is significantly diminished. While at first they seem leader like, if the softer, yet significant attributes of humility are not present or nurtured, their success is in jeopardy.

Good leaders admit mistakes, seek and accept feedback, and share the lessons you have learned.
— Mark Carney, Bank of England

Humility, the researchers say,” is vitally important to creating stability and engagement within teams. A humble leader, they say,“inspires collaboration and earns the respect of their team members. They create work environments with higher degrees of satisfaction and productivity.”

Dena Rhoads, one of the Hogan researchers, offers these tips for avoiding the pitfalls of too much charisma:

  • Put the spotlight on others.  Recognize their achievements and accomplishments.

  • Increase your self awareness.  Acknowledge your mistakes and understand your limitations.

  • Be open to feedback.  Be coachable and accept that your way is not the only way.

  • Monitor your self-promoting behaviors. Others in your organization have good ideas too.

What will you do this week to demonstrate humility in your life and work?

Carter Hollinger