The Humble Leader

By enabling others, we succeed. Leading with fairness, kindness and a willingness to give without expectation of reciprocity in the moment is the sign of a strong Social Leader. Finding the meaning, finding the path through the challenges to our balance, acting with honesty and integrity (instead of just putting the words on a poster in the lift) are signs of a true Social Leader. Holding formal authority is just an incidental fact. Social Leaders may have no formal authority, but rather their power is granted by the community, consensual, in the moment.

Humility in Leadership

The best leader i’ve met this week was in a cafe in London. He worked with a team of three, taking orders, making coffee, directing the team. He did so with great efficiency, and with laughter. I became aware of this the moment i walked in: he radiated energy. He engaged each customer differently: some by name, some with a question, all with a smile. And he did the same with the team. Gently directing the action without ever giving an order. You might think it’s easy to work in a coffee shop: maybe you’re right. But it’s probably hard to do that whilst earning smiles and jokes from your team.

Smiles and jokes? Incidental to effectiveness surely? Maybe, but central to culture i suspect. Culture that is co-created in the moment by everyone within an organisation. Culture that is both fragile and enduring: fragile in that it’s susceptible to pressure when formal authority is stamped upon it, but durable in the relationships that sit underneath it. The bonds that hold individuals together, which may be far stronger than those bonds which hold individuals within the organisation.

The Social Leadership Handbook

Social Authority is consensual, granted by the community, in response to our actions over time. We earn it. And continue to earn it. it cannot be bestowed or bought. Bu humility? Humility is a willingness to learn, a willingness to be questioned, to collaborate, to support. Humility is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of agility and strength, in that you cannot gain trust and social authority through volume and direction alone. You can direct people to do a job, to complete a task, but you can’t inspire them with orders.

We all have a reputation: what yours is is within your control, if you act with consistency and openness. Striving for what’s right, not just what’s easy. Sometimes this requires us to navigate a path: between what the organisation mandates and what we know to be true. Organisations can give us a frame to operate within, but it’s our actions within that frame that determine whether we are fair, whether we treat people as equal, whether we do what is right.

For example: you can employ someone unfairly. If we know there are gender pay gaps within our business, and we employ a woman at a lower rate, we are consciously endorsing the difference. We can rationalise it any way we like, but failing to address a known wrong is tantamount to committing that wrong ourselves. Sure, we can come up with a host of reasons, but if those reasons leave the end results with the new starter on a lower pay grade, we have failed We have handed the inequality on to the next tier, rather than resolving it ourselves. And that’s not right or fair. Solving the issue is not necessarily necessary to be fair, but acknowledging it and trying to is. We may have to run with a bad decision, but our willingness to stand up for what is right will determine the light in which others see us. Are you perpetuating inequality, or attempting to subvert it?


The image of the grey suited leader, stern and often male is enduring: although not endearing. Testosterone driven leadership (which usually incites people to try to lead with strength and power) is all well and good, but it’s just one aspect of great leadership, and not necessarily the hammer to crack every nut. Social Leadership is not an alternative to formal, but rather supplementary, and its the style of leadership we use in social spaces, the sense making spaces that will help us to be more effective.

Social Leaders are facilitating and enabling: they seek to make others successful, through their actions, their words, the generosity of time and spirit and their actions even when nobody is watching. The do so in the belief that action creates culture, so if we are not actively striving to do what is right, we are actively eroding or, at best, leaving static, the existing culture. And who wants to be known for doing nothing when there is so much to improve.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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7 Responses to The Humble Leader

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