Haven’t heard of humble management yet? Read on to learn more about what humble managers are, how to be one, and how it benefits your organization.
Here's what you need to know:
- Humble managers empower their employees to do their best work and ensure that they get accolades for the hard work they do
- The philosophy of servant leadership is closely related to the work of humble managers
- To be a humble manager at your organization, cultivate a willingness to admit when you’re wrong
- Create safe spaces for people to have new ideas and make mistakes, and simply be humble and authentic
- Ideally, the work you put into shifting towards a humble management style will be outweighed by the increased autonomy, engagement, and productivity you’ll enjoy from your empowered employees
There are all kinds of management and leadership styles. There’s the top-down, authoritative approach with micromanager tendencies. There’s the hands-off, figure it out yourself style and much in between.
But one of the newest and most talked about management styles is that of the humble manager.
“Top-down leadership is outdated and counterproductive,” writes Dan Cable in the Harvard Business Review. “By focusing too much on control and end goals, and not enough on their people, leaders are making it more difficult to achieve their own desired outcomes.”
Instead of focusing solely on output, Cable writes, the goal of humble managers is different. The humble manager works to help the people on their teams feel “purposeful, motivated, and energized so they can bring their best selves to work.”
Haven’t heard of humble management yet? Not quite sure how this works or if it’s right for you? Read on to learn more about what humble managers are and how to be one.
What, exactly, is a humble manager?
At first, the notion of a humble manager can strike those used to more traditional management styles as a product of low self-esteem or a lack of ability. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Humble managers still carry out many of the traditional functions that any manager would.
Naturally, that means there has to be some focus on outcomes. There will always have to be some kind of “enforcement” of the rules and processes of the company.
It’s not that humble managers neglect traditional management responsibilities. It’s simply that humble managers don’t see this as their only — or even their primary — function.
The goal of humble managers is to develop and support their employees so they’re able to do their best work possible.
Humble managers don’t see their teams’ performance as something that they get to take credit for. Instead, humble managers empower their employees to do their best work and ensure that they get accolades for the hard work they do. The goal of humble managers is to develop and support their employees so they’re able to do their best work possible.
The philosophy of servant leadership is closely related to the work of humble managers. In many ways, the servant leadership philosophy is the underpinning of humble managers.
Understanding servant leadership
As the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership explains, “servant leadership is a non-traditional leadership philosophy, embedded in a set of behaviors and practices that place the primary emphasis on the well-being of those being served.”
Naturally, depending on your specific business and your unique leadership role, what servant leadership looks like can change from business to business and role to role.
But, in general, the idea is this: Managers and leaders are there to serve the people on their teams, not the other way around.
Like humble managers, servant leaders are primarily concerned with the growth and well-being of the people on their teams and in their companies.
This mindset doesn’t have to stop with business — the Greenleaf Center extends this to the communities around us — but for our purposes, we’ll focus on what it means in business.
As Greenleaf himself proposed, caring for each other used to be a person-to-person affair. But these days, so much of our lives from our income to our healthcare is administered through businesses.
Just because businesses and institutions are large and complex doesn’t mean that caring for each other has to be dropped as a result. Instead, Greenleaf says, we should use them as the new vehicle for caring for each other.
Not only can this lead to increased employee empowerment, creative capacities, and ultimately performance, but a more caring and just society as a whole.
What’s the importance of humility as a management skill?
Central to both the servant leadership philosophy and the approach of humble managers is humility. While hard skills used to be the main way that corporate prowess was assessed, today power skills are taking center stage.
Formerly known as soft skills, power skills have been rebranded to reflect the important value they bring to the working world. Characteristics like emotional intelligence and skills like apt communication are power skills that we’re increasingly realizing are important for anyone in a managerial or leadership role to possess.
We know that leading isn’t just about managing work, it’s about managing the human beings who do that work.
One of the most important critical skills that humble managers and servant leaders can have is humility. Humility means having a modest view of one’s own importance.
Rather than thinking of yourself as the only person who could lead your team to success, you realize that anyone with the right mindset and approach could do it. You realize that the success of your team is largely the result of the work of the people who compose it, not just the leader.
It’s this idea that you’re not more important than or superior to the people on your teams — just that you have a slightly different role than they do — that’s key.
How to be a humble manager at your organization
Ready to try out humble management? There’s no 100% right way to go about being a humble manager. But there are a few places to start exploring:
Cultivate a willingness to admit when you’re wrong
An easy way to separate a humble manager from other managers is looking at what they do when they’re wrong.
Everyone is wrong from time to time and managers are no exception. Rather than try to avoid the mistake or the misstep, humble managers will own where they went wrong.
Not only can people use it as a learning opportunity to show everyone that it’s OK to be wrong, it is also an opportunity for humble managers to relate to those on their teams. We’re all human and we all make mistakes.
Create safe spaces for people to have new ideas and make mistakes
Humble managers know they’re not the only people with the answers. They also know that finding the right way forward often requires some experimentation.
Experimentation usually means trying a few things out that don’t quite work before finding what does. Rather than limiting that grace to themselves, humble managers extend that to everyone on their teams.
Humble managers give their direct reports the autonomy and the space to try things and make mistakes. Then, when what they come up with works, they give them credit for it, too.
Simply be humble and authentic
Perhaps the easiest place to start is by just being humble and authentic. Instead of acting like you have all of the answers or zero flaws, be open and honest about the process you’re going through to figure things out and ask for help. Be honest and transparent — your direct reports are adults who can handle the truth.
Lastly, just be humble. That doesn’t mean not giving yourself credit when it’s due, just resisting the urge to take all the credit for yourself.
Being a humble manager requires a mindset change
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome on the path toward humble management isn’t so much behavior changes as it is a mindset change.
Especially if your company doesn’t really work this way, you’ll be charting a new path and that can be hard. But the rewards you’ll reap as a result will be worth the effort.
Ideally, the work you put into shifting towards a humble management style will be outweighed by the increased autonomy, engagement, and productivity you’ll enjoy from your empowered employees.