Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review. I'm Alison Beard.
We've been talking about humble leadership for years now, but it still sometimes feels like the most arrogant and ambitious people are the ones getting ahead.
I won't name names, but a few tech world billionaires, populous politicians, rappers, and reality stars come to mind.
I'm sure you have bosses and colleagues who also fit the bill.
Of course there are counter examples too, smart and confident leaders, who also show humility and use that combination to rise to the top: Mary Barra of GM, Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, lots of people at my work and maybe yours.
But how exactly do they manage it?
How do you stay humble while also proving your worth?
How do you advance without showing too much ambition?
My guest today has been sett ing these issues for years and has some advice on how to get the balance right.
Amer Kaissi is a professor of healthcare administration at Trinity University and the author of Humbitious: The Power of Low-Ego High-Drive Leadership.
Amer, so glad to have you on the show.
Thank you, Alison. Happy to be here.
Let's start with some definitions.
What do you mean by humility, and how do you measure it?
Humility keeps our feet on the ground by allowing us to have an accurate assessment of our own abilities, by understanding our strength and our weaknesses.
And there's been research that has been done for the last 10, 15 years that have allowed us to measure it very objectively in fact.
And of course, it's better to be measured by other people than for it to be self-reported, but we have a lot of measures now that allow us to understand whether a certain individual or a certain leader is humble.
For example, are they the kind of person who is self-aware?
Are they open-minded and teachable?
Are they the kind of person who is grateful for others' contributions?
Do they reach out to others and ask for their input?
So, we can measure it in a fairly valid and reliable way based on the research that has been done in the last few years.
Those sound like some of the same building blocks that make up emotional intelligence.
Absolutely. There's a lot of overlap between humility and emotional intelligence, several aspects of emotional intelligence, such as emotional self-awareness, emotional self-expression, empathy.
The difference though is that, with humility, it's really more about, are you the kind of leader that stays on the grounds?
You know one of the definitions of humility comes back from the origin of the term, which is the Latin humus, H-U-M-U-S.
Not to be confused with the Middle Eastern, the hummus, right?
So humus is Latin.
And what humus meant for the Romans and for the Greeks is to be close to the ground and close to the earth.
So when we apply that definition within the context of leadership, it's that understanding of the leader who stays on the ground, who stays close to his or her team members who is always in touch with them, and who listens to them with curiosity and with humility.
So someone can be emotionally intelligent, but really arrogant about their emotional intelligence.
Absolutely. And that's probably a very dangerous combination where you're using your own emotional intelligence to possibly manipulate others.