Is There a Place for a Humble Leader?

Some lead with ego, and some lead with humility. Which are the most successful leaders? Let’s look at history.

Leading with ego, we all have a list that jumps to mind because you’ve probably known or worked for these leaders. I immediately think of Ken Lay of ENRON fame and Joe Nacchio of USWest, leaders that led for personal Purpose and gain and not for organizational good. This example is not to say ego is a bad trait in a leader, but it is to say that ego can impair Purpose or value-driven leadership. A good or great leader must have a healthy ego to be a leader. They must honestly believe that they have earned the right to lead others.

So when does good leadership ego transition to bad leadership ego? If we can all agree that ego is a good thing, what is the tipping point where it turns to be counterproductive?

When did President Nixon switch from a good leader to a disgraced leader? When did the traits that got Ken Lay or Joe Nacchio to the pinnacle of their career cause them to fall hard?

Their egos took over their Values and Purpose. When their mission and Purpose became centered around them, their personal needs, goals, or aspirations and not about the collective or corporate good, the tipping point Was reached. Think about Richard Nixon, a highly regarded statesman, legislator, and Vice President to a disgraced President. Consider Ken Lay and Joe Nacchio, two highly regarded corporate executives that negotiated the complex organizational hierarchy to attain the roles of President, CEO, and Chairman – only to fall.

What did they seem to have in common?

The minute a leader begins to believe their press or begins to lead for personal gain, the fall starts. The first attribute they compromise is the Purpose – the reason they were granted the power of position. Our Purpose is our compass that keeps us pointed to True North.

The second thing to erode is their values. Values are what we use hourly to help us make decisions. Nixon allowed the illegal breaking and entry of the Democratic Headquarters to guarantee his election chances. Ken Lay allowed his accounting to count unearned income as revenue. Joe Nacchio was willing to risk the integrity of the company for personal gain.

So, we know ego-driven leadership is, in the long run, unhealthy, how does leading with humility fit in today’s business world?

First, let’s define what a humble leader looks like:

  1. They are Purpose-driven. Their Purpose is for common good and improvement outside of themselves. These leaders set their compass on True North.
  2. They lead with consistent values. Their values are the guiding principles they use to direct all decisions. Their values are visible and transparent. Their strategies and tactics can change, but their values don’t change. Their values are not flexible or subject to revision due to business, environmental, or personal conditions.

To learn to be a humble leader, we need to understand what it looks like to be a humble leader. Being introspective this way will teach us how to learn how to lead for the good of the whole and to and understand that knowledge is power, but shared knowledge has more strength. They know success is a team effort to be shared with all contributors, small and large.

Humble leaders understand the highest acclaim they can receive is the success of those they lead; they thrive in the glow of the success of the organization or project.

Think of a leader that you respect and ask yourself these questions, “Did they lead with ego or with humility?” Now ask yourself, “How successful was this team?” And last, “What kind of leader do you want to work for or become an ego-driven or a humble leader?”

Leading takes courage, but it also requires a purpose compass set to point to True North and a value set they want to be engraved on your tombstone.

About Rich Jones

Strategic consultant and Keynote Speaker, Rich brings a deep experience in the disciplines of Strategic Planning, Marketing, Business Development, Digital Transformation, Data Utilization, Leadership Development and Cultural Alignment. A husband, father, runner, cyclist, beer drinker with a passion for life.


  1. Michelle Payne on August 11, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Your thoughts about the right blend of ego and humility are helpful. Leaders must be well-balanced. Thx, Rich!

    • rich0747 on August 11, 2013 at 11:28 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed the posting…

  2. on April 7, 2014 at 4:37 am

    ?hoa! This blo? looks exactly l?ke my old one! It’s on a completely differe?t subject but it has pretty much the same page layout and
    design. Wonderful choice of colors!

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