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The Importance of Humility in Leadership

A few weeks ago, Jimmy Carter, the former President of the United States announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer of the liver which had spread to parts of his brain. Carter, 90, who left the White House 34 years ago in 1981 – said that he was preparing for anything “that comes” and that his wife is more concerned about the illness than he is. The news was widely covered in the media, specifically Carter’s honest reaction to his diagnosis, which was a deep reminder of the role that humility can play a role in leadership today – which we analysed previously with Tony Hsiah. Whilst leaders are generally thought of as aggressive, authoritative figures, Carter has always exuded humble qualities that clash with the stereotypical image of leadership that is reinforced through popular culture today.

Leaders with a humble nature tend to put issues in perspective and deal with matters rationally, instead of putting their ego and emotions first. They are self-reflective and seek to utilise others by positively engaging the workplace in a collective environment where everybody is involved in the decision making process. Humble leaders are also more likely to admit their personal shortcomings to illustrate to others that they are not infallible and make mistakes like everybody else. It is style of leadership that goes against what we are seeing in the media right now, with the likes of Donald Trump dominating the news agenda with a “macho” leadership style – which has certainly worked for him, but is isn’t for everybody.

Research compiled in January 2014 by the Administrative Science Quarterly found that leaders who exhibit traits of humility in the workplace by seeing to the needs of others and looking for personal feedback on their own competence statistically enjoy a more productive relationship with their employees’ than those who do not – illustrating that leadership is not always about being the most assertive person in the room.

There are certainly millions of Americans who disagree with Jimmy Carter’s politics, but it is difficult not to admire the humility of a man who at age 90 is facing the biggest battle of his life and is still conducting himself in the same modest manner. He left office in 1981 with all the titles and credentials imaginable, but has since helped millions of people through his foundation and written numerous books raising awareness for issues.

Carter has illustrated through his vast political career that rational, calm leadership, backed by a humble nature can work. Leadership, against the stereotypical image, is not always about being aggressive or “macho” it is about competence and dealing with people professionally on a daily basis.

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