The Importance of Humility in Leadership—and How to Spot Unhealthy Ego Habits

UPDATED: June 26, 2023
PUBLISHED: November 1, 2021
The Importance of Humility in Leadership—and How to Spot Unhealthy Ego Habits

To me, at least, one of the most interesting aspects of our human psyche is the ability to recognize faults in other people that we don’t see in ourselves.

So I was grateful last week when a friend texted to ask me if I was aware some of my recent actions could be seen as prideful.

I had shown up late to a meeting and thought nothing of it, but the more I considered it, the more I realized I should have done a much better job apologizing, and most importantly, to be on time.

I took time to reflect on myself so that I could better understand what I did wrong and how not to do it again. I know that sometimes our actions can be misconstrued by others, but I don’t like to leave it to chance. I know we can’t please everyone or meet everyone’s expectations of what we should be doing, but we must also understand our duty as leaders to be the best example we can be to those around us.

Bishop T.D. Jakes told me that it all starts with humility. He’s right. The ability to connect and discuss differing views without feeling personally attacked is what allows for massive growth. If we can’t do that as leaders, it reflects a superiority complex. That’s not good.

I definitely don’t want people working in my organization to accuse me of acting like I’m superior to them. But I know that it can happen by accident. Some key things to watch out for to keep a superiority complex in check are the following.

1. You’re not better.

Never be certain that you are better than anyone. You can learn from absolutely everyone if you listen intently. We all share the fact that we are human, and being human we share similar emotions, trials and challenges. We all are good at something and terrible at another. 

2. You need feedback.

Never assume that you don’t need feedback to grow. You better believe that there is always room for improvement. Criticism is the breakfast of champions. Get used to people telling you what they think you should or shouldn’t do. Be sure to have your values in place so you know what is important to you and what you should always be working on to better yourself.

3. No admiration is needed. 

No one should feel compelled to admire you. If they do, always treat them with respect. Admiration is something that you should not seek intently.

4. It’s you, not them.

Don’t assume that people misunderstand you. Take the approach that you may be the one who is approaching the situation in a way that requires less ego and more humility. 

5. Take time to listen. 

If you don’t actively engage with people, you will definitely be seen as vain and egotistical. Always take time to talk to people and see them eye to eye. Especially if you are in person and you are in a crowd. Always do your best to address as many people as possible. If you ever see me in person, you will see that I do my best to talk to you and look you in the eyes. I want to acknowledge that you exist and that you are important to me at that moment. 

6. Show up. 

Show up to your meetings and show up on time. When you don’t, people may start thinking that you feel you’re too good for them. I often have a packed schedule, so this is one I’m working on. If you don’t respect other people’s time, they will instantly assume that you don’t respect them. 

If you take one thing away from this, please remember that it’s OK for people to criticize you. That’s how we grow.

Take time to reflect on who you are and how your actions affect others. After doing this personal deep dive, I realized that my actions were wrong, and I changed pretty quickly. 

Acting superior or displaying other characteristics of a superiority complex is usually a way to mask or hide feelings of inferiority. To an extent, we all have pride about ourselves and we all have an ego. But as leaders, we must be sure to keep this side of ourselves in check and be aware of our actions and the way we talk to people. 

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 Issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by @gballgiggs/Twenty20

Tristan Ahumada is the People Editor for SUCCESS, operates Lab Coat Agents as its CEO, consults Fortune 500 companies, runs a successful Real Estate team in California, expansion teams in the U.S. (in different brokerages), owner in one Brokerage, currently sits on different boards for tech companies, and is also an international speaker. His love for technology and systems pushes him to test and use the latest products for growth for all businesses around the world including Real Estate Agents/Brokers. Tristan is from Southern California where he currently lives with his wife and two kids.