Humility is one of the top traits of successful CEOs, according to the CEO Genome Study of 2018.

What does humility look like, as practiced by a top leader? I pondered this as I interviewed a new coaching client.

A mid-level leader in his organization, he had applied for a higher-level position. During the interview by the Leadership Evaluation Team, he was asked questions he found it difficult to answer:
Do you feel confident to handle big, tough decisions? When have you done so?

He thought about his experience with his department during a recent period of massive change in the organization, which promised maximum disruption at all levels. He had gathered his employees together for conversations, listened to all the input, and then, with their support made decisions which resulted in their continuing to operate smoothly during the transition. Other departments were not so lucky.

Reflecting on this, he answered no, he had never had experience with making big, tough decisions.

Next they asked him how he might deal with a difficult employee. This leader, in an organization that serves clients, believed that happy employees better serve clients. He implemented his philosophy, which included paying close attention to the work-life balance of everyone.

His response to this question was that he had no experience dealing with difficult employees.

Is it any surprise he didn’t have difficult employees with which to deal?
He did not get the leadership assignment, but the committee commended him for his many excellent leadership qualities, and recommended he get coaching on the above two topics. Eager to be the best possible leader, i.e. one who served the people he led well, he agreed.

When he came to me with this story, seeking help, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Leaders everywhere are given training, told to read books, and counseled on how to engage employees and raise productivity. Here was a leader who was doing it intuitively, but wasn’t recognized for it.

There are two solutions to this challenge: the quietly brilliant, humble people need to learn how to recognize and talk about their accomplishments in terms of the team’s success (takes the focus off their ideas about “self promotion”), while those who evaluate others need to recognize that someone who makes it look easy may actually be dealing most effectively with the hard stuff.

Humility shouldn’t be dismissed as weak or ineffective.


Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based coach, speaker, and consultant to introvert leaders. Visit her website at www.QuietBrillianceConsulting.com