Humility: The Most Important Trait of Successful Leaders

Enthusiasm. Integrity. Communication. Loyalty. Decisiveness. Competence. Empowerment. Charisma.

Forbes recently listed these 8 traits as the most essential leadership qualities – however, we would argue that they left one off.


Current scholarship on leadership has suggested that humility may just be the most important leadership trait of all. A recent study of 105 IT companies found that humility in CEOs is associated with greater leadership team integration, flexible strategy development, and higher company-wide performance. Other studies have shown that humility in leadership is linked with lower turnover and higher attendance.

This may come as a surprise. The word humility sometimes carries a negative connotation. Some may think of humility as the inclination to underestimate one’s own ability, a trait that can lead to indecisiveness and inaction – which is certainly not a good thing for a leader.

However, social theorists agree that this is an incorrect definition of the quality. Based on recent research, humility is actually defined as having “an accurate assessment of [one’s] strengths and weaknesses” says Ashley Merriman, a popular contributor to the WSJ.

A humble leader thus not only possesses a thorough awareness of their own weaknesses, but simultaneously has an unwavering confidence in their own strengths. Therefore, when faced with a challenge or hurdle, that leader won’t be hesitant to ask others for help; their acknowledgement of weakness makes them value diverse opinions, and their confidence makes them unafraid to show a bit of vulnerability.

When a leader asks for help from their own leadership team, that leader signals that they value the opinions and perspectives of their peers. They invite collaboration – and more importantly, they demonstrate the importance of a growth mindset. Leaders don’t know it all, and they don’t need to. They just need to possess the desire to learn.

The non-humble leader, on the other hand, may have a self-assured façade but they will surely hit a roadblock sooner or later. Out of fear of showing weakness or vulnerability, the non-humble leader will be hesitant to ask for help and quick to reject the advice of others. This prevents collaboration and productivity, and leaves their leadership team feeling undervalued.

Meanwhile, after inviting collaboration to overcome a challenge, the humble leader will share the celebration of success with their team – ensuring that each and every member of the team feels valued, recognized, and appreciated for their contributions and efforts.

The humble leader gives credit where credit is due – and one thing’s for sure, if your team feels valued, your clients will too!

So, let’s expand that list. Shall we?

Enthusiasm. Integrity. Communication. Loyalty. Decisiveness. Competence. Empowerment. Charisma.  Humility.


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