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How to show all-important humility in leadership without being a doormat Torsten Dettlaff

It is a miserable feeling when you lose your team. It’s like a football manager who has “lost the dressing room”. You treat your team badly or fail them one too many times, and one day when you walk into that room full of sweaty, weary players you can tell immediately by the body language and the facial expressions that you no longer have their respect.

You can be sure they aren’t going to take your direction. They certainly don’t like you any more. Any chance of regaining that winning streak you were on dwindles to nothing.

Having humility as a leader can help you avoid getting into that position, or at least help you turn it around if you find yourself there.

This is what humility as a leader looks like in practice:

  • You get comfortable saying “I don’t know” or “I need help”.
  • Ask a lot of questions. Do a lot of listening.
  • Ask others to step up and shine.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Admit to them quickly, apologise when you get it wrong, and ask for help to make it right.
  • Ask how you can make it better for others.
  • Stretch your team and invest in their development.

I realise this may not be as easy as it sounds. One of our first instincts as humans when we find ourselves feeling threatened, anxious, or like there is too much as stake, is to get defensive and hostile.

My natural instinct when I find myself under pressure is to come out swinging- I’m a fighter not a flighter- and I’ve had to learn to stop, take a breath, and think about how to salvage a volatile situation.

There can be a tendency to tear down others in order to feel less threatened by them, or to bluster over our insecurity and bully our way into convincing people that we are capable of the job. This method almost always backfires. You will be quickly found out. You will be alienated from your team and become less effective than ever. You will have lost the dressing room.

But showing humility does not mean that you do whatever it takes to be liked. It does not mean that you become a pushover that let’s your team run roughshod over your leadership and decision-making responsibility.

Humility used wrongly makes you look weak and ineffective. That is just another way to lose the respect of your team.

Being humble makes it possible for you to build a great team because humility allows you to act with integrity and foster loyalty.

Humility, integrity, and loyalty are the starting ingredients you need to create a united team that will get things done and weather the rough patches.

A leader builds this up each day, in your face to face time with individuals, in team meetings, during discussions, when you’re working on projects together. You model behaviour that is important to you, that demonstrates integrity, such as:

  • treating others with respect,
  • being honest and transparent, and
  • valuing each person’s contribution.

You also make it clear what the expectations are of loyalty of all members of your team and you lead by example:

  • You speak well of each other
  • You stick up for each other when dealing with external partners
  • You demonstrate that your team is all on the same side, by knowing the key messages and sticking to them, even when challenged.

These become the norm within your team.

You may not realise how much people pay attention to all that you do when you are the leader. Team members do note how leaders respond in certain situations, and they pick up, even when they don’t realise it, what your values are and what you stand for.

This is how you show humility while remaining a strong and effective leader that earns the respect of your team.

I have written a book about how I learned how to be a better manager over 20 years of hard lessons. I share these in a simple guide so that you don’t have to learn the hard way. You can sign up here to receive news of the launch of it, my first book. I will be sharing free materials to everyone signed up here shortly.

I write about how I became the founder of a tech startup as a non-techie, over-40 female with no entrepreneurial experience, and all I am learning along the way. You can see more here: If you think this might be helpful for others on their entrepreneurial journey, please recommend and share.