Humble Leaders Thrive

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

Humility is a character trait that all leaders need. It comes from a combination of family upbringing, spiritual beliefs, and general life experiences. Humble leaders cultivate self-awareness, and are open to exploring their strengths and development opportunities. They take feedback well. They look at input from others as a way to grow and develop professionally.

When leaders operate from a place of pride and arrogance troubles arise. They let their egos cloud their judgment and decision-making. They tend to believe that they know best, and do not look for opportunities to learn from others. They’re bad teammates, and even worse people managers. Their careers usually derail quickly.

To highlight the stark contrast between arrogant and humble leaders below are two case studies from my consulting experiences.

Case Study 1

Maria had it all. An EVP job at a specialty clothing retailer. A team of talented and capable people. She was bright, sharp, and had high intellectual horsepower. She was passionate and highly dedicated to her work. However, she carried herself as if she always knew best. She took little to no feedback from her team. She put people down when they raised questions or concerns. She bullied those that did not follow her orders.

I was brought in to work with Maria after she lost several important team members. They left the organization because of her abrasive leadership style. Maria’s colleague, and the CHRO of the company, asked me to conduct a 360-degree assessment and provide her with some developmental coaching. From the start, Maria was not willing to take ownership for her actions. She refused to provide a list of 360 feedback participants. The CHRO had to select people for her. Once she was made aware of who would be providing feedback, she argued over the names, and had excuse after excuse as to why certain people should not be on her 360 list. She made the entire data collection process a nightmare for her people.

After completing the 360 interviews and putting together her feedback report, it took me eight weeks to get on her calendar. She kept canceling and rescheduling our meeting. It was clear she did not want the feedback. When I finally did meet with her, she fought tooth and nail over every constructive comment in the report. She argued with me, demanded that I share who said what, and got so mad at one point that she almost kicked me out of her office. It was one of the most difficult feedback meetings that I ever had to have with an executive.

Following the 360 feedback conversation, I attempted to start our coaching. Every time we met for her sessions they ended up focusing on her complaints or frustrations with others. She did not believe she had any issues to work on. Her pride got in the way of her effectiveness as a leader. After six months of this we decided to terminate our coaching engagement. As her issues continued over the course of the next year, she continued to alienate herself from colleagues. She was slowly throwing her career away due to her arrogance. In the end, she was asked to leave the organization because she could not change her leadership style.

Case Study 2

Julie was a superstar SVP of Sales for a large pharmaceutical company. She had worked her way up through the sales function, starting as a rep and steadily working her way to the top. She had a strong intellect, and the fire in the belly to deliver exceptional results. Her energy and enthusiasm was contagious. Her reputation for partnership and collaboration with other functions helped her to rise in the organization. She was open to feedback from colleagues, and always gave credit to her team for hitting their sales targets. Although she regularly delivered above and beyond expectations, Julie never developed the poor habit of bragging or boasting about her success. She made a consistent effort to put others before herself.

I started working with Julie after her second year in the SVP role. She was considered a high potential for the company and was being groomed to take on an EVP role for sales and marketing. From the beginning of our coaching engagement, she wanted to do all she could to grow and improve. There was no doubt that Julie understood the next year of her career would impact her candidacy for future roles, but she focused on people and process improvements rather than her personal needs.

We started our coaching engagement with an executive assessment, which consisted of several online leadership personality inventories, a 4-hour assessment interview, and 360-degree feedback. When we met for her feedback, Julie was eager to take the insights and craft her development plan. We worked together to outline the three to five key priorities for her development over the next year, and then started coaching against those areas. Throughout our coaching relationship I found Julie to be open, honest, and receptive to input. She was confident in her capabilities, but always valued the trusted counsel of people she respected. I saw her work with her team in an extremely collaborative fashion, and this garnered trust and support from her people. She regularly welcomed suggestions from the team, and maintained and open door policy with her direct reports. She took time for the development of others, and made coaching and feedback part of leadership. With cross-functional colleagues, Julie was collaborative in her approach to executing collective outcomes. This enabled her to build credibility with leaders outside of sales.

Eighteen months after we started working together, Julie was promoted to EVP. Her hard work, effort, and dedication paid off. Despite all her success, I never saw her looking for praise or public recognition from others. She always made things about her team, rather than herself. Julie understood the power of humility. She learned from her experiences, and valued input and feedback from others along the way. This helped propel her career forward.

For more information on how to lead with humility look for Dr. Bandelli’s book, What Every Leader Needs, available in bookstores, and on iBooks and Amazon this Fall 2016.

Contact Bandelli & Associates at to pre-order your very own copy today.

Leadership Matters, Without It, People Fail.