Humble and Grateful – The Truly Effective Leader


We all know the typecast of a typical leader; the boss who rumbles around the office, his shirtsleeves rolled up, yelling at the staff, letting them know “it’s my way or the highway.”  

And I bet that you may have even worked for someone like that at one time.

Wanting to Follow a Leader

I remember one like that and also remember that I didn’t stay around there for very long.

  • You probably didn’t “follow” that boss as much as you simply obeyed commands; perhaps out of fear for your job.
  • You rarely admire someone like that, very rarely seek to be like them unless it is under the mistaken belief that it is the only way to get ahead.
  • You don’t buy into their vision; you probably don’t even know what their vision IS if they have one.
  • You simply methodically and robotically followed commands, went through the motions, watched the clock until quitting time, and got your butt out of there as quick as you could.
  • You then went home and yelled at the kids and kicked the dog, because unfortunately enduring that for 8+ hours a day unavoidably has an impact on you and we typically take it out on someone else.

Changing Leadership Landscape

The landscape has changed.  Leadership shows up everywhere.

The leader of today:

  • May not even have a title.
  • Has a vision and focuses their efforts and the efforts of their team around realizing that vision.  If he rolls up his sleeves, it is to pitch in, not dish it out.
  • Values all team members and their unique contributions.  He seeks to optimize what each person brings to the table.

This can only happen when authentic humility and gratitude are at the core of a leader’s character.

On Humility and Leadership

Humility is given a lot of attention.  You can go out on the Internet and discover more thoughts about humble leadership than you can shake a mouse pointer at.

We are all in favor of humility…..when it is prescribed for everyone else.

We as humans tend to want only others to sacrifice pride, ambition, control, power, and other temporal vanities and be humble before us so that we may benefit from “humility.” We often don’t want to be humble and feel like we are at some sort of loss.

Consequently, it is our personal lack of humility that often creates a tunnel-vision from which we will be extremely slow to recover, if we do at all.

Yet, getting over ourselves and utilizing the power of humility is often the best way to engage others.

It is probably the most powerful way to grow ourselves in both personal and team leadership.

A Punch in the Leadership Gut

Young Benjamin Franklin was a cocky, ego-centric, yet accomplished person.  He was also smart enough to realize that he was becoming morally bankrupt and set out to find character traits in which he needed to improve.  He came up with a list of twelve traits.  

Confident and proud of himself, he showed the list to a trusted friend probably with the idea of boasting of his efforts to improve.  His friend then gave him a jolt that led to adding a 13th trait – humility.


John C. Maxwell in his recent book Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn tells the story of how early on his staff gave him a gift of a t-shirt that read “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am!”

While everyone laughed it off, John was stung because he suspected that was how everyone truly felt.  And he was right! So he decided to work to change his attitude.

Clearing the Fog

Humility gives us a more accurate perspective in our daily interactions.  It also leaves us open to what we can learn from others and from what makes others special, unique, and valuable to the team.

It doesn’t mean putting ourselves down, it simply means bringing others up.  As Ken Blanchard says:

“Humility does not mean you think less of yourself, it means you think of yourself less.”  

Humility is constantly outward focused.

Understanding Gratitude

Gratitude pairs well with humility, kind of like how a fine wine goes with a good dinner.  They compliment each other and enhance each other.

Actually, it’s probably even a little more symbiotic than that.  Without gratitude you cannot have humility and without humility you will have a really hard time being grateful.

The key to effective gratitude is to remember that gratitude is loud and persistent. ClickToTweet

Gratitude felt but not expressed isn’t useful to anyone; not you and not to those around you who need to know that you are appreciative.  It’s kind of like how in family therapy a member is asked, “do you love them?”

Of course I do,” they respond.

Do you ever tell them?” they are asked.

Well, no, but I shouldn’t have to.  They know how I feel!

But in actuality, they may not really know that you love them. You must tell them, and tell them often.  However, don’t force it, you must be genuine.  If you are not sure what you are grateful for, take a few minutes to sit and think about it; you are bound to find value there.

Then express it out loud and often.

Effective Gratitude

Gratitude is also direct and specific.  Gratitude must be expressed point-blank and you must share details of what you are appreciative of.

Too many times, we think that simply thank you is enough.  It’s not.

Especially GenY/Millennials want to know WHY you appreciate them, not just that you do.  They want to know they are important and valuable.  Expressing gratitude to them helps do that and brings value to both the giver and receiver.

Gratitude expressed directly to someone is triply blessed. It blesses the giver, the receiver, and it blesses the bond between them. ClickToTwee

Gratitude, dude…

This why I initiated the Gratitude Live Project.  A couple of weeks ago an idea hit me as I was reading gratitudes expressed by people on social media who were engaging in public daily gratitude journals.  People were expressing general thankfulness for family, friends, the trees, and whatnot.

It was good for them but not really impacting anyone else.  So I thought about what would have greater impact and it occurred to me that expressing gratitude directly one-on-one to someone in specific terms would bless the giver, the receiver, and the relationship.

Here is how it goes…

  • Participants in the project started a couple of weeks ago to daily identify in their life someone who has had a positive impact or influence on them and express gratitude to them either through a handwritten note, an email, a postal mail, a telephone call, or in-person.
  • Everyone participating has remarked about the tremendous impact it has had all around; one person even shared that a relationship that had waned was now being rekindled, all through a simple gratitude.

On Leadership, Humility and Gratitude

Why can’t you have that same impact with the people you lead?  If you approach them humbly and with gratitude, I can guarantee that you will have a positive result and believe that it will make your team more cohesive, more productive, and more profitable as a result.

Try your own Gratitude Live Project by expressing directly to a team member each day why you appreciate them.  You have nothing to lose but your own self-importance.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Paul Simkins
Paul Simkins is Chief Discovery Officer of Ah-Ha! Moments Living
He is a speaker, trainer, and coach on leadership and personal growth
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Skype: psimkinsjr

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L2L Contributing Author