Two Skills Every Leader Should Have
Discover how humility and optimism are essential elements in making a great leader

The undersung leadership skill: Humility

by Jessica Stillman / © 2021, Mansueto Ventures, LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

In life, it’s often those who toot their own horn the loudest who draw the most attention, but an absolute mountain of evidence shows that humility is actually an essential skill for great leadership. Academic studies show staying humble helps us learn more quickly and that teams of humble leaders tend to perform better. 

  Which means if you’re hiring for any sort of leadership position, you’re going to want to assess the ability of candidates to empower others, acknowledge their own limitations and learn from errors. But while screening for applicants’ willingness to trumpet their accomplishments is easy, how do you get at a quieter trait like humility?

  [The] Wharton [School of the University of Pennsylvania] professor Adam Grant has a couple of ideas. Grant [has] a pair of questions targeted specifically at assessing humility and the capacity to be a team player:


“Who do you owe your success to?”

  What are you listening for when you ask this one? “What differentiates a faker from a truly humble person is often that the fakers are really focused on impressing you. So they will name people above them in the hierarchy,” Grant explains. Better answers skip this name-dropping in favor of wholehearted credit sharing.

  Also, keep an eye on pronouns. The more times you hear ‘I’ and ‘me,’ the less likely it is that the candidate is a true team player. The more you hear ‘we’ and ‘us,’ the more likely it is you’re speaking to a truly humble person.


“Who have you learned the most from in your career?”

  You’re looking for folks who are capable of learning not just from bigwigs and luminaries but from folks from all walks of life.

  “Humble people recognize you can learn from anyone and everyone,” Grant says. “Take the student who [applied] to Yale and who asked his school’s janitor to write his recommendation letter. The appreciation and curiosity that the student showed towards somebody who’s literally at the bottom of the totem pole in that high school [shows] humility.”


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