Humble or Agile Leadership

leadership stylesSo far I have explored several types of leadership and what constitutes them. This post I dedicate to another two leadership styles that, considering their terms, could not have anything in common.

The first is ‘humble leadership’. In the dictionary humble means ‘having or showing a modest or low estimate of one's own importance.’ Well, hard to imagine a leader that has low estimate of his/her importance and leads well. But let’s see how different sources define it:

  • humility means being honest’ - why then do we have two words? 
  • a study on ‘humble leadership’ states that “when employees observed altruistic or selfless behavior in their managers … they were more likely to report feeling included in their work teams.” OK, I’m not to repeat again and again that management is not leadership, but would still point out that a leader that has emotions would surely have the same results. It is not about humbleness but emotions –Goleman would probably agree.
  • another research found out ‘that managers who exhibit traits of humility—such as seeking feedback and focusing on the needs of others—resulted in better employee engagement and job performance.’ 
  • Feedback is definitively not correlated with humility but rather with empathy and professionalism. 
  • the important attributes that a ‘humble leader’ has to have are: engage in dialogue, not debates; admit mistakes; embrace uncertainty and accept ambiguity; be open to others’ opinions; let people do their jobs; be balanced; secure and recognize. The very same attributes we have already seen in other styles of leadership.
Let’s continue with the 'agile leadership'.

Today more than ever, we operate under the delusion that all remains constant and everything is under our control. Unfortunately, it is far from reality. Leading a team, a company or a country today is much like swimming in the unpredictable, treacherous and changing environment. So, by agility definition a leader has no choice but to master ability to adapt and learn. It is supposedly a complex set of skills which each of us and especially a leader should be comfortable with. Those skills then help to embrace the ‘grayness’ of unpredictability. How do leaders then grasp these changes? In ‘the agile leadership’ by characteristics such as:

  • self-awareness; mental agility; people agility; change agility; and results agility (by Korn/Ferry International). I always thought that a leader should by definition be agile in his approach and not by the attribute in front.
  • clarity of vision and ability to share it with others; strong communication – storytelling and listening; strong self-belief, coupled with humanity and humility (here we encounter an oxymoron pair: ‘strong self-belief’ and ‘humility’); focus on priorities; confidence and trust; passion and pride in what leader does; ability to drive, inspire and embrace change; demonstrate a greater openness to ideas; transfer powers and decision-making and empower the followers. Those characteristics in my opinion are those that any leader should have – why only an agile one?

I hope you have read it till now and figured out that I've repeated most of attributes of two leadership styles that at first glance do not share anything (except leadership) in common. How come?

You have an answer – please write it down at the “comment” part of the blog as I’m preparing a special blog on these issues and would appreciate your opinions.


  1. Sounds just like the rules to a successful relationship Jaro, lol. Confidence, trust, passion, pride, change, honesty, adapt and learn as we go. Great post Jaro..

  2. Jaro I think we suffer from a little misunderstanding re humble leadership - there is no such thing. Neither is there such a thing as “empowering” leadership.

    Empowering leadership is not a style of leadership. However, there are leaders who value others and desire to see them achieve greater things and set up pathways for their success. We call that empowering leadership no?

    Neither is humble leadership a style of leadership. There are those, however, who value humility, and it is the guiding virtue of their leadership. Those whose values are driven by humility are distinct in their behaviours. They display honesty, regardless of personal consequence. They are also learners and openly receive feedback. Not only do they receive feedback but they appropriate the lessons learnt from it.

    So many of the attributes you mention regarding agility and humility cannot be separated. Neither can you separate pride and leadership. I see it like this:

    The more humility is valued, the less one focuses on self and one values the input of others, the greater the understanding of the present and future environments in which one operates.

    The opposite is also true. The greater the the focus on self the less on values the input of others, the less one understand the present and future environments in which one operates.

    Humility = Learning = Agility
    Arrogance = Obtuseness = Rigidity

    As with everything there are exceptions to the rule, so I do not hold tightly to these beliefs. However, all my experience and readings indicate these to be mostly true observations.

    1. Rob, thank you so much for your comment and expressed your views on topic. I do agree with you that there are a lot of misunderstandings due to naming leadership styles. In previous posts, this and next I am to cover my thoughts about those “labeling” / “naming” of leadership styles currently in use.

      I sincerely hope you have read the post till: “I hope you have read it till now and figured out that I've repeated most of attributes of two leadership styles that at first glance do not share anything (except leadership) in common. How come?” where I (as you) am asking "why"?

      In my book “Leadership by Virtue” I used (not named) a lot of what you described in your comment and this gives me proves for what I wrote. Thank you for this.

      I like very much “Arrogance = Obtuseness = Rigidity”. The only issue I have “problem with” is the part “Humility = Learning = Agility” where “Learning = Agility” is for me obvious. More you know ~ more opportunities (agilities) arise. I just cannot connect “Humility = Learning” part.

      Thank you very much for sharing this.

  3. I love this. Instead of me answering about Humility = Learning I thought I would let some of the researchers and authors respond. A humble leaders attitude is, “The more I know, the more I know there is to know” (Jane Harper) - they know they don't need to be the smartest person in the room and are willing to learn from others.

    So here goes:

    When we are humble, we are open to new learning. Art Petty

    Something interesting happens when we approach situations from a perspective of humility: it opens us up to possibilities, as we choose open-mindedness and curiosity over protecting our point of view. We spend more time in that wonderful space of the beginner's mind, willing to learn from what others have to offer. We move away from pushing into allowing, from insecure to secure, from seeking approval to seeking enlightenment. We forget about being perfect and we enjoy being in the moment. "In a humble state, you learn better. I can't find anything else very exciting about humility, but at least there's that."
    — John Dooner

    A humble leader assumes they do not know all the answers and allows people to explain things to them. They look for the opportunity to learn something new and they use every opportunity to make others feel valued. The humble leader knows the world is changing around them faster than they can keep up and is grateful for the opportunity to learn something new or reinforce knowledge they may already possess. Leroy McCarthy

    To develop as a leader requires one to learn from mistakes and deal with adversity. To do this requires admitting fallibility, an act of humility. There is little room for arrogance or cynicism in truly great leadership. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Doty

    Humility is knowing you are smart, but not all knowing. It is accepting you have personal power, but are not omnipotent ... Inherent in humility is an open and receptive leaves us more open to hear from others and refrains from seeing issues and people only in black and whites. ... The opposite of humility is arrogance - the belief that we are wiser or better than others. Arrogance promotes separation rather than community. It looms like a brick wall between us and those from whom we could learn. TANGNEY, JUNE

    JIM COLLINS when describing hubris says that they suffer from a, Decline in Learning Orientation: Leaders lose the inquisitiveness and learning orientation that mark those truly great individuals who, no matter how successful they become, maintain a learning curve as steep as when they first began their careers.

    1. Thank you for this in-view to "humility" issues. Reading them I had in my mind two other words that could fit as well, if not better: "openness" and even better one "empathy". What is your opinion?


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