5 Steps to Become a Humbitious Leader

5 Steps to Become a Humbitious Leader

An executive coach offers tips for achieving low-ego, high-drive leadership.

Amer Kaissi believes successful leaders blend humility with ambition to achieve personal and organizational success. Kaissi, an executive coach and professor of health care administration at Trinity University in San Antonio, says “humbitious” leaders have the confidence to make difficult decisions and the willingness to admit mistakes.

Kaissi says research shows these tactics help leaders combine hard and soft skills and fundamentally shift employee engagement, innovation, productivity and performance.

1. Be self-aware

Kaissi says self-aware leaders are six times less likely to experience career derailment such as a demotion or termination. Becoming self-aware requires intention. Leaders must make time for internal reflection while also assessing their impact on others.

To better understand yourself, Kaissi says to block out daily “heads up” time to proactively think about personal and professional challenges. Conversely, he recommends identifying “loving critics” to offer specific feedback about your interactions with others.

2. Don’t get defensive

Accept feedback as a gift. Kaissi says leaders often push back when they receive negative feedback. “The only thing you need to say is ‘Thank you, you’ve given me something to think about’ whether you like the feedback or not,” he says.

3. Show appreciation

Employees of leaders who show appreciation are 40% more engaged, Kaissi says. But meaningful appreciation takes more than a cookie cutter email. High-impact conversations with employees have a huge effect on motivation and engagement. Hand-written notes that are specific, genuine and timely also convey deep appreciation.

“Leaders who show appreciation on a regular basis create special work environments where people are engaged in their work. People are intrinsically motivated to go above and beyond,” Kaissi says.

4. Keep an open mind

Leadership programs tend to teach students how to argue, debate and negotiate. Rather, Kaissi says successful leaders should listen to understand others, not to prove themselves. “That empowers people to speak up and creates psychological safety in organizations. When people speak up, we have to listen,” he says.

5. Follow the ‘Platinum Rule’

Leaders should treat their employees the way they want to be treated. That requires understanding how employees operate. Kaissi says leaders should ask employees for their owner’s manual—their values, recognition needs and environment that allows them to perform at their best. “It's all about understanding what people need and taking the time to ask that question,” he says.

Kaissi, author of “Humbitious: The Power of Low-Ego, High-Drive Leadership,” was a keynote speaker at Children’s Hospital Association’s 2023 Annual Leadership Conference.

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