How being ever so humble can make you ever so successful in business

Successful managers need a motivated workforce yet so many bosses make basic mistakes which quickly lose their staff’s respect.

Forget the loud, brash, tell-them-what-to-do school of management – top down leadership is way past its sell-by date. There is another, gentler and ultimately far more successful way.

It’s by being humble but in a completely opposite way to that of smarmy creep Uriah Heep from Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield who kept mentioning his ‘umbleness’ as a smokescreen for his malevolent manipulation.

To be humble in the most positive sense of the word requires an open mind along with a sense of humility and the mindset to listen with sincerity. It’s a style known as ‘humble leadership.’

At its heart staff need to feel appreciated by managers who are committed to bringing out the best in their employees and are open to feedback because this ultimately makes employees happier in their work. Staff want to feel encouraged, supported and energised, not downtrodden, ignored and taken for granted.

Top down, dictatorial management simply doesn’t work and those managers who focus on targets ranging from increasing sales to making efficiencies there is a real danger their thought processes miss out those who have to make this work … their staff. If employees have a fear of failing or missing targets then they’ll start to feel negative about the work they do which will ultimately have a detrimental impact on the business.

After all, if people feel motivated and look forward to going to work - relishing each day as a challenge instead of approaching it with a sense of dread - and leaving at the end of the day with a sense of fulfillment, everyone benefits … especially the business.

The buck may stop with managers but there are a lot of shoulders among the workforce willing to help bear that weight and sense of responsibility if they feel they are listened to and reassured they are an important part of an inclusive team.

If changes need to be made in the workplace then ask for opinions from the workforce and listen to what they say with sincerity and an open mind. After all, if they feel like they’ve only been paid lip service and then their ideas are totally ignored they may end up more demoralised than if they’d never been asked at all.

If their ideas aren’t used then explain why and encourage them to keep coming up with more. Any business is only as good as its people and everyone who deals directly with customers has a role to play in how these customers perceive the business and if they’re willing to be repeat customers. That can show up in every phone call an employee makes and every email they send. They may well know their customers far better than management and could suggest bright ideas that had never crossed managers’ minds before.

After all, how many TV programmes have we seen where the chief executive goes undercover on the shop floor to find out just how the business runs and is often shocked how much of a daily struggle it is for many staff yet some employees show amazing resilience, hard work and innovation to overcome it.

The words “we’re doing it this way because we’ve always done it like this” shouldn’t pass managers’ lips. That shows a closed mind to new innovations or fresh outlooks that could improve policies, procedures and how customers perceive the business to be. The world never stops moving forward and businesses shouldn’t either. If you close your mind you may as well close your business.

Investing in people has almost become a cliché these days but it’s true. No matter how great your product or service, without good people to deliver it then it will never reach its full potential.

Dan Cable, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, describes managers with a humble mindset as “servant leaders” which sounds like a bizarre prospect at first but actually means they regard themselves as serving employees as they develop in the workplace, providing them with both practical and emotional support.

Prof Cable sums it up perfectly by saying: “Servant leaders have the humility, courage and insight to admit they can benefit from the expertise of others who have less power than them. They actively seek the ideas and unique contributions of the employees they serve. This is how servant leaders create a culture of learning and an atmosphere that encourages followers to become the very best they can.

“Humility and servant leadership do not imply that leaders have low self-esteem or take on an attitude of servility. Instead, servant leadership emphasises that the responsibility of a leader is to increase the ownership, autonomy and responsibility of followers — to encourage them to think for themselves and try out their own ideas.”

Putting it into practice is surprisingly straightforward. Instead of telling employees how to do their jobs better, ask them how you can help them to do their jobs better.  By encouraging and helping them to get new skills and to enjoy their jobs you’re more likely to keep them and so avoid the cost, time, hassle and uncertainty of trying to replace them should they decide to leave.

After all, how many managers have struggled to replace a brilliant employee and never quite managed it before eventually realising those lost skills have harmed the business.

The end result of a servant leadership style should be a positive workplace ethic and atmosphere that everyone is in it together, everyone has a vital role to play and everyone should be actively encouraged to contribute ideas to continually move the business forward. Strong companies foster an atmosphere that everyone should be a potential innovator, not simply a follower.

Humility – let’s call it the H-Factor – shows that you can be humble yet ambitious and successful. Humble managers focus on the job, not themselves, and their egos are never so big they can’t fit their heads through the door. Egoistic managers may grab the attention but, more often than not, for the wrong reasons.

We’ll give the final word to former US President Teddy Roosevelt, who said: “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

By being humble you are, in effect, empowering your staff in so many ways to improve their own skills, confidence and knowledge which will ultimately enhance your business … and lead them into eventually becoming servant leaders themselves.