WHEN DAVID NEELEMAN\n\nwas fired from Southwest Airlines, he lost what he thought was a "dream\n\njob." The person who had the unpleasant task of asking him to leave was\n\nAnn Rhoades. When Neeleman started his own airline a few years later,\n\nhe hired two of his colleagues from Southwest: John Owen as CFO and you\n\nguessed it, Rhoades as head of HR. Rhoades told Fast Company, "David didn\u2019t understand the nuance of the organization. He needed to walk, not run." \n\n\n\n\n\nToday Neeleman runs what might be considered the world\u2019s "coolest"\n\nairline, Jet Blue. He may not be walking, but he is certainly more\n\nhumble. Humble enough to understand that if he wanted to grow his new\n\nenterprise, he could learn from those who had once been his colleagues.\n\n\n\nHumility just might be one of the most overlooked attributes in\n\nleadership, but it just might be one of the most important attributes a\n\nleader can possess. Humility is a strand between leader and follower\n\nthat underscores one common element: our humanity.\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n Humility is Humanness\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nHumility is not taught in management courses or many leadership\n\ncourses, for that matter. And you can understand why. Organizations\n\nwant their leaders to be visionary, authoritative, capable and\n\nmotivational. Nowhere does it say anything about being "humble." \n\nStill, most successful leaders understand that a sense of humility is\n\nessential to winning hearts and minds. Humility is a visible\n\ndemonstration of concern and compassion, as well as authenticity.\n\nLeaders who are to be followed must be leaders who understand the human\n\ncondition, especially their own. Those in authority who are blind to\n\ntheir inner selves are likely to do stupid things, like invade Russia\n\n(Napoleon), invade France and Russia (Hitler) and invade Kuwait\n\n(Saddam). \n\nOn a less serious note, managers out of touch with reality put their\n\nown interests first \u2014 Ken Lay, Richard Scrushy and Dennis Kozlowski\n\ncome to mind. None of these supposed leaders demonstrated one iota of\n\nhumility, and, in the process, ran their businesses into the ground. By\n\ncontrast, leaders such as Colleen Barrett of Southwest Airlines, along\n\nwith her leadership team, have created a culture of humility, one that\n\nsprings from concern for others as a means of building a people-centric\n\norganization.\n\nHumility is an approach to life that says "I don\u2019t have all\n\nthe answers and I want your contribution." For some people, that is no\n\nproblem. For people at the top, that may seem akin to saying, "I am\n\nnaked." Or close. \n\nHumility is a form of nakedness, but not a form of exhibitionism.\n\nRather, it\u2019s a demonstration of acceptance as well as resolve. Humility\n\nis acceptance of individual limitations \u2014 I cannot do it alone \u2014\n\ncoupled with a sense of resolve to do something about it \u2014 I will\n\nenlist the help of others. That is the essence of leadership. \n\n\n\nHumility in leadership is something that needs to be communicated. Here are some suggestions\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nInvite feedback. One of the operative principles of coaching is\n\ngiving feedback. Managers need to turn the tables on themselves and\n\ninvite their employees to give them feedback, too. But before they can\n\ndo this, they must spade the ground. Asking for feedback from\n\nsubordinates without proper preparation is akin to pulling a knife on\n\nthem. Of course they will tell you what you want to hear. Leaders must\n\nmake it safe for their people to offer criticism as well as advice.\n\nWhen done properly, it builds trust.\n\n\n\n\n\nEncourage dissent. Part of feedback is dissent, a disagreement\n\nwith the central point of view. For leaders, dissent is a good\n\ngut-check as well as a lesson in humility. As with feedback, when you\n\nmake it safe for people to voice a discordant note, you get other\n\npoints of view. Accept dissent as a form of humility. \n\n\n\nTurn failures into lessons. Mistakes give rise to the need for\n\nhumility. Instead of trying to cover mistakes up, leaders need to\n\npublicize them. Not for the sake of retribution, but for the sake of\n\neducation. According to the Wall Street Journal, Eli Lilly, the\n\npharmaceutical company, took a second look at a cancer drug that had\n\nfailed in human trials. Researchers at Lilly understand that the\n\nscientific method involves a degree of trial and error as well as\n\nfailure analysis. The result is that mistakes can be turned into\n\nsuccesses; the failed drug was modified and is now used to treat\n\nanother form of cancer.\n\n\n\n\n\nExpect humility in others. Humility breeds humility. A good\n\nexample of this practice is a Buddhist monastery. There all the monks\n\nwork in support of the community and in pursuit of a oneness with their\n\nhumanity and their spirituality. A sense of personal humility is a key\n\nto self-understanding that in turn leads to greater awareness of the\n\nwholeness of life. In other words, if you show humility, you can ask\n\nand expect others on your team to do the same.\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nAnd No One Said it Was Easy\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nGranted, humility does not inspire people to wake up in the morning\n\nand cry out, "Gosh, I feel humble today." In fact, too much humility\n\ncan erode self-esteem. Ego is essential to leadership because it breeds\n\nself-confidence. If anything, leaders must demonstrate confidence, a sense that they can\n\ndo the job. What leaders need to realize is humility need not be\n\noppositional to confidence but rather supportive of it. Confidence is\n\nnot simply about self, but can grow to embrace the entire team. That\n\nis, leaders can, and should, feel more confident knowing they have the\n\nsupport and the resources of others with which to do the job. And if\n\nthe team is not right, then it is the leader\u2019s job to make it so\n\nthrough job training, personal development and augmentation of people\n\nwith other skills.\n\nHumility, however, is the grace note of leadership. One of the\n\nmost humble leaders in the history of human expedition is Sir Ernest\n\nShackleton. Although his voyage to Antarctica ended in disaster, he\n\nbrought all of his men home safely. While he led from strength, he\n\nserved with humility \u2014 he sought to make his team comfortable and\n\nassured throughout every phase of the long journey back to\n\ncivilization. \n\nHumility is admission of humanity, a sense that leader and follower are\n\nin this together. That deepens a sense of trust. Better to admit a\n\nshortcoming, or a limitation, than to lead blindly onto the unknown.