“The Best Leaders Are Humble Leaders” is the name of an article published in May 2014 in the Harvard Business Review by Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib. People are beginning to realize that humility is not only not contradictory to a good leader’s qualities, but is in fact one of the most important qualities he requires. It is now understood that humility does not undermine effective decision-making. Rather, humility is the best defense against hubris and all the cognitive biases that organizational psychologists caution us against.
Among the behaviors found in leaders who exhibit humility are the following. 1) The ability to admit mistakes and to learn from others. They are well aware that no single person can be an expert in everything. 2) They truly encourage and empower their followers to learn and develop. 3) They have courage and take personal risks for the greater good.
The authors, based on their research, suggest leaders employ certain practices to allow their followers to grow and be inspired by their humility.
First, they share their own personal mistakes as teachable moments. “When leaders showcase their own personal growth, they legitimize the growth and learning of others; by admitting to their own imperfections, they make it okay for others to be fallible, too.”
A second practice they exhibit is engaging in dialogue, not debates. “Too often leaders are focused on swaying others and ‘winning’ arguments. When people debate in this way, they become so focused on proving the validity of their own views that they miss out on the opportunity to learn about other points of view. Inclusive leaders are humble enough to suspend their own agendas and beliefs.”
A third practice they engage in is embracing uncertainty. “Ambiguity and uncertainty are par for the course in today’s business environment. So why not embrace them? When leaders humbly admit that they don’t have all the answers, they create space for others to step forward and offer solutions. They also engender a sense of interdependence. Followers understand that the best bet is to rely on each other to work through complex, ill-defined problems.”
The Torah already taught us the importance of leaders being humble and following the above practices. Moshe Rabbeinu, whom we meet in this week’s parsha, is described as the paragon of humility. It is therefore no surprise that Moshe also serves as the model of an ideal leader.
The Ketav Sofer suggests an explanation to a question which reveals that Moshe himself understood how important it is for a leader to remain humble and to take measures to prevent arrogance. Amid his discussion with G-d, Moshe argues that he is not fit for the mission because he lacks speaking skills. He points out (4:10), “I am not a man of words, not yesterday nor the day before…” The Ketav Sofer explains that there are some people who are capable of speaking extemporaneously. Other people, though not capable of extemporaneous speech, can deliver a moving talk with sufficient preparation. Moshe told Hashem that he did not possess the ability to speak extemporaneously and preparation would not help him.
Nonetheless, Moshe ultimately accepted his mission. The Ketav Sofer asks: Once Moshe accepted his mission, however reluctantly, why didn’t he pray that his speech impediment be cured and he be granted public speaking capabilities? He suggests that Moshe realized that, as a leader, he would be powerful and accomplished and was concerned that this would cause him to become arrogant. Moshe felt that it was so important for him as a leader to remain humble that he preferred to remain with his speaking difficulties as an insurance policy guaranteeing his humility. Through Moshe’s example, the Torah teaches us that humility is not simply a good thing for leaders to possess. It is the sine qua non of good leadership.