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Being humble as a leader is essential to a growth mindset.

Being humble as a leader is essential to a growth mindset.

Pride will get us in trouble every time if we dig our heels in and can’t tell others when we are wrong. I noticed myself doing this recently in a situation where I thought I was right. All facts on the surface pointed to me being right and I could feel my ego engage as it tried to get someone into compliance with what I wanted. It was clear that my pride was on the line and I found all kinds of arguments inside my mind that supported my position. But because I have studied character for so many years, I also knew that proving you are right can come at the cost of a relationship. As I thought about this, I asked myself “is being right more important than having this relationship in my life?”  At the moment I was still insistent on being right and my ego was not letting go just yet. 

So I tried another tack. What if there was truly some fact that I was missing that would help me understand the point of view of the other person? I asked someone else on my team that was more objective to take a look at the facts. And sure enough, they found something I had missed and pointed it out. Ah, the other person had a point that helped me understand why they thought they were right. Suddenly I had empathy for how they must feel too. 

Every misunderstanding usually has problems on both sides.

At that point I had to admit, that nearly every situation has two or more points of view and many variables that could be missed, so no one person will have everything covered. We can’t possibly know where another person is coming from unless we ask them and stay open to why they have that view. Only then can we understand why an impasse has arisen. Asking another person how they have come to their conclusions can also force them to dig deep and articulate how they got to their view. Sometimes it helps them surface something they missed too. Every misunderstanding usually has problems on both sides. 

Granted this requires a capacity to let go of one’s pride and make another attempt to resolve things with more humility. As soon as I did this, the other person became open too. Did it take some strength of character to suck it up and take responsibility for contributing to the impasse? You bet. But as soon as I did, I felt so much better. I trusted the admission of my own mistake to make things better, help the other person do the same. Luckily, it worked. Only then, could we both begin to work on the solution together. 

Had I let my ego and pride lead the way, I clearly could have lost a relationship. Sometimes that’s ok too. If both sides can’t find humility, then it might be a relationship you can live without. But most of the time, it’s best to look for your own error in thinking and listen to the other side. That takes humility and a willingness to put your pride aside, at least momentarily, knowing it isn’t really who you are, but a rather weak ego-part that can’t bear the idea of being wrong. Only then can you set the right example, and see if they follow your lead. If they do, you’ve got a relationship worth working to keep. 

As a leader, our teams need this capacity from us. They need to know we can put down our shield and let them inside beyond the wall of our ego to influence us at our core. To help us see when we have missed something. To help us admit when we are just plain wrong. Only then, does our credibility go up as a leader. And we become someone they respect. 

Pride builds walls. Humility builds relationships. Without relationships, we lose influence. People may follow a leader with pride for a while, but it isn’t sustainable over time because pride promotes a rigid mindset instead of a growth mindset. If we want the people around us to grow, then we have to be an example of openness to learning as often as we can.