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The Hidden Trait of the Successful Modern Leader

There has been much written about leadership in the modern era and possibly, given the numerous dissections we have all read, there is little to add. However, upon review of a wide variety of literature, media and articles on the subject matter, there are a few things that appear to be increasingly common traits in leaders today not seen as readily a decade ago.


One key trait, which remains relatively un-mentioned in leadership discussions, is that of humility. There is a distinct irony that humility is not widely trumpeted, certainly it is undervalued or at least not emphasised enough when denoting the key features of successful leaders, particularly in business circles.

It can sometimes be tricky for business leaders, particularly CEOs, to demonstrate their empathy given their frenetic days, continuous time-pressure and workloads but humility is innate and instantly recognised. In my time as a headhunter, I have seen the slow death of the autocratic leader, those “fire-breathing dragons” of industry who ruled through fear and perhaps, over-confidence and the emergence of a new normal – the leader who is seen as approachable, balanced and humble. The ones you would even go for a drink with!

We live in a world of super-achievers, whether they are CEOs leading multinationals, financial whizzes or tech entrepreneurs so such an extent that modern industry is awash with talent. As a consequence, even if you are a star, there will doubtless be many equivalent stars around you, before you and indeed, to come after you. When hiring their next leaders, businesses quite often look for the ability to be humble about your achievements at every level. Many an executive I have spoken to has noted that when they meet potential leaders to join their company, the overuse of the word “I” and the underplaying of team-based achievements can immediately ruin the individual’s chances of securing the position, no matter how compelling the CV. When hiring, organisations often focus on an individual’s ability to interact effectively across a diverse group of employees at all levels. Under-pinning that capability is the requirement to be a humble individual, thereby allowing for approachability and empathy.

Humility is one of the key traits that almost every organisation implicitly looks for in its leaders but it is a trait that is rarely, if ever, directly mentioned. A transforming global business culture and the continuous efforts most companies have put into engendering a collegiate and positive work environment has created an atmosphere where those who seek to follow a more ego-centric path quickly become isolated. They stand out for all the wrong reasons in the modern workplace. On a simplistic level, people generally want to work with people they like. If you lose your humility as a leader, it is a sure-fire way to having a disengaged workforce, potentially being disliked and is usually a pretty straight road to disharmony.

Without possibly realising it ourselves, as humans we all tend to respond strongly to those leaders who have all of the requisite ability to inspire, manage and create but who do this with no air of affectation or perceived arrogance. Those are the leaders we don’t just follow but the leaders we wish to emulate, not just as professionals but as people.

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