There are so many examples of leaders who, by their positional power, demonstrate authoritarian characteristics of leadership. Of course, there are leaders with positional power who consult, collaborate, and confide as part of their leadership style – without compromising their ultimate decision-making responsibilities.
Just because a leader has ultimate responsibility, does not mean that they should wield their decision-making sword without a maturity of character that demonstrates the value they place in others. Not only should leaders lean on others for their expertise, judgment and advice, but they should also be very aware of the impact their decisions have on those they lead.
Humility is synonymous with a lack of pride or vanity. Leaders who have achieved significant success are responsible for high-value decisions and they command the attention of many people, but they can be negatively impacted regarding their self-image. This can be fueled by self-importance, a sense of accountability, or ambition. Whatever the circumstances, leaders do well to maintain a balanced humility that endears themselves to those around them, along with whatever charisma, drive, and significance they have.
What does humility deliver? For some people, humility can be a weakness, or at best a compromise. In my experience, humility in leaders is characterized as a strength in the following ways; they listen to others without assuming they know best, they seek consensus in most circumstances, they often seek out expertise, they weigh up the impact of decisions impartially, and they always place the highest value on others.
Does positional power corrupt? Not necessarily. But the most significant leaders are at their best when they work in teams. In many ways, a healthy team environment within an open culture can bring out the best in leaders. Positional power need not usurp collegiate advice, neither need it act in a wisdom vacuum. Positional power is an inevitability, and it can be a virtue. Leaders in positions of power carry out their roles with an understanding that the buck stops with them – but not to be the sole pivot point for success or failure. Often, their decisions have been informed by those around them, their timing is influenced by other factors and people, and their direction is born as much out of learning as it is from insight. Yes, positional leaders are the face of organizations and they are carry the responsibility to press the button, but they also embody the culture and values that an organization espouses. That’s why a dose of humility goes a long way to tempering the negative aspects of positional power.
One of the best ways of keeping a positional leader honest, is to have an external coach. That’s in addition to them hopefully being surrounded by great colleagues, friends, and family. A coach can hold up a mirror, dispassionately provide feedback, and deliver objective advice in a courageous way. The best executive coaches are those who are unafraid to “say it as it is”. Often it isn’t just what a leader says, it’s the way they say it. Leaders, especially those in positions of power, can get tunnel-vision or become blind to the ways they come across. Engaging a coach is a grounded, honest, and smart way to ensuring that positional power doesn’t corrupt …… demonstrating humility in growing oneself!