Leadership Spotlight

Humility: A Leadership Trait That Gets Results 

Stock image of five people dressed in business attire standing in an office building.

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

-Ernest Hemingway 


Leadership is a fine art, a balancing act of many different skills and abilities developed over time and through experience. One important piece of the leadership puzzle is humility—in essence, knowing what you do not know. It is having a modest estimation or opinion of yourself regardless of intellect, rank, or position. Not only is it having a modest opinion, it is the ability to express that to others. It is confidence, not arrogance. It is realizing your weaknesses and capitalizing on the strengths of your team. It is proving to be one of the most critical components that leaders need to develop and communicate to build connectivity with their teams. With connectivity the team reaps the benefits of improved morale, stronger trust, and increased productivity. Is that not what leaders want most?

Time-tested research in the leadership discipline has proven that people will follow a leader, regardless of rank or position, with whom they feel a connection before they follow someone whom they perceive as disconnected, arrogant, and out of touch. Leadership that gets results requires humility, which is not a sign of weakness or an inability to make decisions. It is a trait that people crave in their leadership. Self-awareness and critical reflection allow leaders to remain humble, yet strong in the eyes of their people. 

Three critical reasons exist to show humility and to continue to foster it in others.

  1. Innovation – Humility in leadership allows others to realize that they have worth and value. When others feel valued, their creativity flourishes, which leads to better problem solving, innovative change, and movement toward the common vision.
  2. Development of others – Allowing others to speak, be listened to, share ideas, provide feedback, and work in an environment where they are connected encourages personal and professional development.
  3. Energy – Innovation and connectivity create energy in the workplace. 

The culture of law enforcement may not always encourage humility. The very nature of the job requires a strong command presence, to some degree, at every rank and level. Self-control and assertiveness are required skills. The tremendous sense of responsibility and power that come with the badge can lead to behaviors that are perceived as arrogant, as opposed to simply confident. Humility often can be overlooked or, even, viewed as weakness. It is not. It is vital. Allowing yourself to be humble and to express your humility openly allows for others to grow. There is nothing more powerful than that.




“Leadership that gets results requires humility, which is not a sign of weakness or an inability to make decisions. It is a trait that people crave in their leadership.”

Beth Coleman, an instructor in the Law Enforcement Development Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. 

Additional Resources

D. Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1996)

D. Goleman, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2013)  

John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin, “Six Principles for Developing Humility as a Leader,” Harvard Business Review, September 9, 2013, http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/09/six-principles-for-developing/ (accessed February 11, 2014)