Some CEOs are known for their apologies—at least the number of them they issue publicly. Travis Kalanick, the man at the helm of ride-sharing giant Uber, is no stranger to these apologies. Unfortunately for his company’s image, the public apologies haven’t always matched up with ongoing turmoil at the company, throwing Kalanick’s leadership under scrutiny time and time again. Known as a brash and persistent leader, many people feel that these apologies are hollow and insufficient, because the culture at Uber continues to be precarious and hostile. Even those closest to him are urging a change in his management style. After years of scrutiny, Kalanick agrees—but the journey to this point of newfound humility has been fraught.
So what has historically been at the heart of Kalanick’s troubles as a leader? Part of it is this lack of humility—despite the consequences of his actions, Kalanick has been largely used to dismissing them in the past—signaling confidence in his own decision-making, regardless of outcome. Humility is a key ingredient in successful leadership, but why?
Arrogance is Off-Putting
There’s a difference between humility and lack of confidence. Confident people don’t have to be arrogant and aggressive in order to be good leaders. Arrogance is off-putting—no one wants to listen to a leader stroke their own ego—they want substance and action, not bluster. Furthermore, people are much more likely to help others when they’re in a difficult situation when they’ve shown past humility and grace.
No One is Perfect
We tend to not believe a leader who admits no weakness, because everyone knows that no one is perfect. No one can be right all the time, and even a CEO of a large company will make mistakes. Humility is important because it shows an understanding of this truth, and gives us the confidence that a leader will consider the potential consequences before taking action.
It Takes Strength to Own One’s Mistakes
Have you ever been tempted to blame someone else when something goes wrong—even if it was your fault? Most of us have. But it takes strength and humility to own one’s mistakes and take responsibility for them. In a crisis, leaders need to be able to assess the situation and find solutions, but they also need to be able to take responsibility and admit their own mistakes in order to preserve respect from others. When accusations come in, it’s easy to go on the defensive, but leaders should take these moments as an opportunity to make positive changes.
Humility Inspires Collaboration
While there are many brilliant people in this world, no one person knows it all. Leaders and managers with humility recognize that they can’t do it all, and have the ability to trust others, delegate, and collaborate with ease. In fact, humble leaders are oftenable to come up with the best ideas and empower others to do great things. Inspiring leaders with humility even have the ability to encourage collaboration in others, which can lead to increased productivity, teamwork, revenue, and growth.
People Respect Humility
In leadership, one of the most important ways to motivate a group of people is through inspiration and respect. Though people may be initially impressed by leaders who are brash, confident, and willing to do whatever it takes to reach their goals (no matter how many questionable ethics are involved), eventually that veneer wears off, and they begin to tire of the egomaniac. People respect leaders with humility, because it indicates qualities like self-awareness that allows for good decision-making. Leaders with humility are always seeking ways to improve themselves, because they know there will never be a point at which they know it all. Respect also runs two ways— leaders with humility respect other people, which inspires respect in return.
Leadership with Humility Involves Empathy
Empathy allows us to listen to others, understand their point of view, and view them as individuals. When leaders take the time to listen to others and empathize, that builds trust. In any leadership situation, trust is essential, often producing positive outcomes for everyone involved. Empathy is impossible without humility, because arrogant people are usually only thinking about themselves.
Humility is Anything But Weak
While some might argue that leaders need to be powerful, and that humility shows weakness, the opposite is actually true. Leaders with humility are working toward a purpose larger than themselves. Along the way, they can inspire others to be hardworking, ethical, and empathetic. This can create a resilient, resourceful, and confident workforce with the skills to accomplish great things. That is the power of a humble, yet confident leader.