August 27, 2019

Humility Defines Leadership

By Kristin Johnson, Adjunct Instructor, Integrated Marketing and Communications Department Division of Programs in Business

Successful leaders are humble, recognizing many people and levels contribute to an organization. They build teams that provide acknowledgment of great work and tolerance for risk, including losses.  Leaders who fail often lack humility, routinely taking all of the credit and none of the blame. They have weak teams, leaving no soft landing when they themselves stumble.

As part of a recently featured article on for Forbes Coaches Council, I shared these observations on the topic of leadership. The fuller article includes observations from 14 industry leaders and consultants, who make up the Expert Panel, all of them reflecting more broadly on leadership. The article focused on lessons that define both the successes – and the failures – of leaders.  Alongside my teaching, my work as a full-time crisis communication consultant and advisor at Logos Consulting Group suggests that this lesson of humility is likely not taught in most business classes.

Through my crisis work, one can see that reputational harm in business is often self-inflicted from a lack of humility at the top.  I’ve learned from my mentor Helio Fred Garcia, president of my firm and also a professor at NYU, as well as from my 15 years in client work, that stakeholders of any organization are often able to forgive corporate missteps and transgressions if there is some demonstration of care. A company cannot move forward, however, if leaders in an organization fail to express humility and care – which often includes an apology, acknowledgment of adversaries, or even stepping down to make way for a fresh start. Without a demonstration of care, leaders will fail to win back stakeholder trust and reputation is often lost. It can be devastating not only to the leadership, but to the entire organization. Humble leadership is strength.

Professor Johnson lectures on humility, reputation, and successful leadership among other topics in her "PR Consulting" class at NYU’s School of Professional Studies, an elective in the Masters in Public Relations and Corporate Communications, which she’s taught since 2014. She is also the co-author of the book "How to Succeed in a PR Agency: Real Talk to Grow Your Career & Become Indispensable."



Photo Credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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