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Humility in business is a key element of leadership

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A successful business has at its core a successful and energetic team and by team I mean management and workforce – all levels. The development of such a team involves good recruitment, strong personnel development and succession planning. Above all however a team will not function in such a way if top management does not show they have humility in business.

I mean of course, being seen to be approachable and open to constructive challenge and new ideas. Feedback should be encouraged and all members of staff should feel their opinion matters. Moreover, performance targets must be seen as achievable and realistic – be they corporate or individual KPI’s. This may seem obvious but in my experience targets are determined by top management all too often to satisfy external demands, such as from investors more than in response to internal growth projections from the team that is involved in the activity day-to-day.

Yes, teams should be challenged but if you break their trust then they will not be successful. Humility in business would allow you to reap many benefits in the long term, from better staff retention to more drive and commitment.

Having humility in business is seen as a key element in the top level of leadership described as “Level Five” in the excellent book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. Level five leaders never take credit for accomplishments, it is seen as the team that has succeeded. They also accept criticism for failures to deflect the fallout from the company as a whole. It is also needed when analysing profit margins and efficiency. It is not smart to cut corners and build profits on the backs of others.

Practices such as paying low salaries or imposing draconian working conditions will eventually backfire either through poor staff retention or in the court of public opinion which may damage corporate reputations and share price.

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Companies must respect customers because they are the future of the organisation’s sales’ growth. This is as true of B2B partners that help your company to function. Too many times the product supplier is ambivalent to the needs and ambitions of the B2B partner’s business. It is also true of how to interact with your end-user, who uses or consumes your product. There are many examples of horrendous customer service especially after sales and this can directly affect future growth, especially in today’s interconnected world of social media where one bad experience can go viral.

Be humble in front of your consumer, help them to better use your product and be responsive to their concerns and it will help to improve the “ownership experience” – that will bit-by-bit strengthen brand loyalty and the reliability of business growth over time.

Finally, let’s consider CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programmes. These are not trophies that are just for show. This is the opportunity for the company to give something back to its local community or to a region where sales are significant. It will have a myriad of benefits that affect the bottom line including improved recruitment and corporate image that should satisfy the CEO. However, a humble, Level five leader will also recognise that a successful company has an obligation to give something back and to be a positive force in the global community – why? Because it can!

Image: Shutterstock

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