A leader who is truly humble, and is perceived as being so by others, ultimately will have far more authority than an arrogant leader.

The moral dimension of the financial crisis has led to renewed interest in the ethics of executives, governments and regulatory bodies.

Of all the virtues expected of an executive or government official, humility is especially important, yet it largely has been overlooked in the realm of economics.

This is probably due to an incomplete or misguided notion of what it means to be humble, why it’s important, and how being modest contributes to the success and reputation of an organisation as well as of its leader.

In his working paper “Reputacion y Humildad en la Direccion de Empresas (Reputation and Humility in Running a Business),” Professor Antonio Argandona of the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa at the University of Navarra in Spain aims to set the record straight, offering ideas for reflection on this essential virtue.

People often think that humility is incompatible with showing the authority necessary in being a leader, Argandona writes. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

A leader who is truly humble, and is perceived as being so by others, ultimately will have far more authority than an arrogant leader.

Self-knowledge is the first and foremost expression of humility. People who are humble neither overestimate their virtues nor disparage themselves.

Having high self-esteem does not make them pretentious.

They constantly evaluate themselves, and realise that they are not infallible. This self-awareness includes recognizing what they owe to others.

Humble individuals do not take credit for all of their strengths and achievements. Instead they value and appreciate the help they receive from others.

Another quality associated with humility, Argandona writes, is a sense of transcendence, the tendency to act according to an ambitious ideal.

That is why being humble also entails being demanding of oneself.

Humility often goes hand in hand with other virtues, such as objectivity, simplicity, the desire to learn and patience with others.

Humble leaders don’t boast about their strengths, but they don’t deny or conceal them either. Nor will they hide their shortcomings, deficiencies and mistakes.

They neither seek praise from others nor feel hurt by criticism. They are grateful to discover how others perceive them, since it can raise their self-awareness.

When it comes to evaluating others, humble individuals are aware that everyone else is probably better than they are in some way, so they tend to judge others less severely than they would judge themselves.

Humble leaders also tend to avoid comparing their qualities, merits, knowledge and achievements with those of others.

If forced to do so, they try not to rate themselves as superior. They pass judgment if necessary, but look for the silver lining whenever possible.

This openness gives way to additional virtues associated with humility, Argandona writes, such as generosity, respect and a spirit of service. In particular humble leaders acknowledge the merits of their peers.

They request, accept and acknowledge their ideas, suggestions and tips. They never are envious of the successes and qualities of others.

Why should a humble leader be put at the helm of an organisation?

For one thing, Argandona writes, they tend to make fewer mistakes. Their natural inclination for introspection and their willingness to accept outside criticism generally give them a good idea of what their limitations and capabilities are.

Their interpersonal relationships tend to be more genuine and simple, since they do not crave flattery.

They tend to be sincere both in their criticism and in their praise, highlighting the positive aspects of the other person’s behaviour without skipping over the negative ones, which can help them improve.

They tend to seek collaboration, to offset their shortcomings and to capitalise on the standout qualities of fellow team members, and will likely pay more attention to the common good of the organisation than to their own self-interests.

Acknowledging their limitations drives them toward the active pursuit of excellence.

From IESE Insight

© The New York

Times 2013

Humility often goes hand in hand with other virtues, such as objectivity, simplicity, the desire to learn and patience with others.

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