The 6 Principles of Humility, by Dr. Tony Baron

The 6 Principles of Humility, by Dr. Tony Baron

Over the past 10 years, I have been honored to explore and debate the essence of power with Dr. Tony Baron. Specifically, how power impacts leadership, how leadership impacts culture, and, ultimately, how culture impacts performance. 

With a double doctorate in psychology and theology and decades of executive coaching experience with Fortune 100 companies, you can imagine the depth and breadth that Tony adds to the subject. We are currently co-authoring a book that combines Tony’s scholarship and my straight talk about the challenges faced by today’s leaders. Meanwhile, I will be sharing guest posts by Tony over the next several months to give you a taste of what it’s like to have an amazing colleague and friend like Tony Baron. – Sheri Nasim

Demonstrating modesty has been underrated.  Yet, when you read some significant thinkers in the corporate world like Jim Collins or in the church world like Larry Osborne, they think it is the essential ingredient of good leadership.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review had an article on how to cultivate humility as a leader.  Authors John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin suggested that every developing leader should be taught these 6 principles of humility:

1.  Know what you don’t know.  The higher you climb up the proverbial corporate ladder, the greater the temptation it is to believe that you are the smartest person in the room.  But deep down, you know that you don’t have all of the answers.  You may not even have all of the questions.  Know when to defer and delegate.

2.  Resist falling for your own publicity.  Part of the leadership role is to maintain a positive outlook.  Your confidence boosts that of your team and your customers.  While it’s important to have a positive outlook, it’s just as important to correctly assess reality.  Keep your spirits high, but your judgment at an even keel. 

3.  Never underestimate the competition.  No matter how smart you are, how many hours you are willing to put in, or how creative your team is, do not allow a residue of hubris to form around your culture. There is always competition for your customer’s attention.

4.  Embrace and promote a spirit of service.  The term servant leadership was coined by Dr. Robert K. Greenleaf in the late 1960s.  In his book, Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, Greenleaf writes, “The great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness.”  Use you power for the sake of others.

5.  Listen, especially to the weird ideas.  Dame and Gedmin write that “the most imaginative and valuable ideas tend to come from left field, from some associate who seems a little offbeat, and may not hold an exalted position in the organization.”  Step outside of your inner circle to get a fresh perspective.

6.  Be passionately curious.  Leading during uncertainty and change requires a healthy dose of curiosity.  Without curiosity, we are unable to sustain our attention, we avoid risks, and, essentially, stagnate. Embrace curiosity and promote it among your team.

Larry Osborne, in his recent article in Leadership Journal, believes that every leader must avoid the 3 curses of leadership failures:  the curse of the spotlight, the curse of hype, and the curse of leadership ADHD. Osborne recommends keeping leadership hubris in check by leading with a low profile, underselling and over delivering, and keeping the team focused on strategic goals.

The first task of any leader is to assess reality correctly.  You can’t do that well without humility.

Question: What specific actions are you taking to remain humble as a leader?


Dr. Tony Baron is Distinguished Scholar-In-Residence at Center for Executive Excellence and an internationally recognized speaker, writer, corporate consultant, professor and the San Diego Director of Azusa Pacific University Graduate School of Theology.

Dr. Baron is the author of six books, including The Art of Servant Leadershipand a workbook manual co-written with noted author and business leader Ken Blanchard.  Throughout his career, he has worked with hundreds of companies including Ford Motor Company, Coca Cola Company, Warner Brothers Studios, and Boeing, among many others.

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