Humble managers are valuable to their organizations because they delegate generously, generate loyalty, and encourage innovation with no threat of blame.

One Center member had taught middle school and remembered the principal as someone who knew his people and was great at giving support. These managers set an example of learning, sharing, and forgiving. Genuine humility is a certain indicator of genuine strength. And, like Abraham Lincoln, they usually have a great sense of humor.


Erin Lavery, Bryon Johnson, Mike Markiewicz, Bob DeVita, Bill Mitchell, Corey Knautz, Jerry Pettigrew, Erick Nelson, Derrick Van Mell

“Seeing yourself as you truly are, not more, not less.”

The core characteristic of humility is self-knowledge combined with a commitment to service. The core behavior is putting others first. You don’t hear them take credit, avoid responsibility, or blame others. They seek the facts, ask genuine questions, and welcome criticism.

They actively and systematically introspect. The only thing they’re 100% certain of is that they don’t know everything. They don’t seek rewards or promotion for themselves; their reward is other people’s success. They see management as a calling.


Ego, arrogance, Narcissism. These symptoms of self-centeredness are familiar and visible while humble people avoid drawing attention to themselves.

If the CEO is an egomaniac, go work somewhere else. You might enjoy the pay, pressure, and challenges for a while, but it’ll kill you in the end. You particularly won’t like getting promoted and directly depending on that son-of-a-gun.

Beware of false humility—in others and in yourself

Some managers know only how to look humble. They say all the right things about teamwork, service, and equity. But their actions say otherwise. They manage to be at the center of things when times are good, and absent when times are bad. They have a thousand ways to draw attention to themselves, in their speech, writing, dress, and body language.

But there’s another kind of false humility: taking too much blame. Another member said a colleague called him out on this soon getting a management job. In an effort to be humble, in an effort to put others first, he wasn’t meeting his responsibility to give others correction, direction, and encouragement.

The insecure overachiever is another version of the blame-eater. A CEO of a large life sciences business once said about a board member, “I can’t understand his lack of self-confidence. He has a PhD after all.” Someone suggested perhaps the board member got a PhD because he didn’t have self-confidence. This raises a question for managers: Is humility or technical competence more important?

Confidence vs. Certainty

Baseball legend Dizzy Dean said, “It ain’t bragging if it’s true.”

One can be both humble and self-confident, but it matters how you talk about it, with others and with yourself. In fact, good managers need to be self-confident.

Good managers (see Relevant Terms below) often have to portray confidence when leading others toward a challenge. It’s not a lack of humility to convey your belief in doing something great. Humble managers will say, “I firmly believe we can do it” rather than “I know I can do it.”

A good manager doesn’t pretend anything is certain, that nothing can go wrong. They have faith in their own ability and their team’s ability to handle changes and crises. Only the vain are certain. They live in a painting of how they want things, not fearless looking at reality.

Special Challenges for Women

Women at work have to striker a finer balance between humility and confidence. Too humble, and they risk getting ignored. Too confident, and they risk getting a bad label. It’s an unfair burden but taking extra time to choose one’s spoken and written words will set a great example for the women—indeed, everyone—around you.Family

How to Develop Humility: Start by Faking It

I was always better at the appearance of humility than the reality of it.” – Benjamin Franklin

Franklin is actually providing useful advice: fake it. But here, “faking it” means purposely resisting temptations to draw attention to yourself. Always remember that you’re on a journey to find enlightened humility, to be egoless, unaware of the difference between you and others.

Of course, as a manager, you should have something to be humble about. That means taking responsibility. Once you decide to be a manager, as Jocko Willick says, “It’s all on you, but it’s not all about you.”

The most important way to develop humility—returning to our definition above—is to bravely seek self-knowledge. Write a journal, take personality assessments, ask peers and pastors for honest ideas. But don’t just look for mistakes and flaws: it’s just as important to see your successes and strengths. Then you’ll “See yourself as you truly are, not more, not less.”

Selling is an excellent way to develop humility. The pressures are intense to make the conversation about what you’re selling and not what the prospect needs. And you get many chances to fail. But great salespeople will tell you that servant selling—like servant management—produces lasting results you and your team can be proud of.

Related Terms

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