Humble leaders ask open-ended questions such as “What do you need from me?” and “How can we come together on this?” to elicit ideas and solutions from their team, writes former CEO Sabrina Horn. This approach isn’t easy, as many CEOs and executives struggle to be vulnerable and prefer a veneer of all-knowing.
As a young CEO, humility was not one of my core leadership traits. For the privilege of having those three letters after my name, I figured I’d better have all the answers or at least act like I did.
But pretending to know something when you know you do not is faking it, and faking it has a way of catching up with you. Like many first-time executives, I confused humility with a lack of confidence and, therefore, chalked it up as weakness.
Being humble may not seem like an obvious CEO trait. It is true that you’d be hard-pressed to find a leader who lacked self-esteem or had a sense of unworthiness. In the real world, the CEO does not have all the answers, but does have all the questions and the confidence to ask them.
The best leaders have a realistic appreciation of their strengths and weaknesses. They are secure in knowing that they don’t know everything, and they have no problem asking for help, learning from others and even apologizing for their mistakes.
That degree of confidence and open-mindedness draws people in. It levels the playing field for everyone you lead and nurtures a hunger for knowledge and data, thereby driving a culture of learning. For me, such confidence is inextricably linked to curiosity and a mindset receptive to discovery.