Healthy self-regard in effective leaders

An illustration of a young leader pointing up toward the leadership key.

I once spoke at a leadership conference where a leader in my field was one of the other speakers. I fell ill on the day he was to speak and, much to my dismay, missed hearing him. When I asked the speaker coordinator about him she had this to say, “he was so egotistical, demanding, and condescending that I will never use him or his agency, ever again.”

How do we maintain a view of ourselves as capable, competent, and self-confident without alienating others and appearing unapproachable – the kind of leader others do not want to follow?

Humility is being able to accept and acknowledge that you do not know everything.  Tweet This!

The challenge is that, as followers, we want to have confidence in and be inspired by our leaders. We want our leaders to know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there, however, when they do that in such a way that somehow sets them apart from the rest of us ‘humans’, we feel disconnected and the relationship is damaged.

Add a Little Humility

So, what is humility and what is its relationship with a healthy self-regard? First off, self-regard is the way you regard yourself and a ‘healthy’ self-regard is one in which you view yourself as competent, confident, worthy, and deserving. It is desirable for you to view yourself highly, but not so highly as to come off as better than others.

It is important to accept one’s self and respect one’s self, however, not as better than and, therefore, more deserving than others. Humility is being able to accept and acknowledge that you do not know everything, are not perfect (who is?), and can grow and develop until the very end of your journey. Okay, so what can I do to add the all-important ingredient of humility?

Talk Tentatively

To demonstrate our humility we can talk tentatively. I remember reading about this idea in the wonderful book, Crucial Conversations, in which the authors suggest that one of the ways to decrease defensiveness and improve the likelihood of not encountering the conversation killers ‘silence’ and ‘violence’, we can simply talk tentatively.

I think it’s a brilliant way to show our humility to others. It begs the question, “how much can we really know for sure anyway?” And by using such tentative language as, “it seems to me…” or “from my perspective…” or “here’s my guess as to what this means…” we demonstrate that we could have it wrong. There is more that others can add from their perspectives. All perspectives are important and can be included to enhance meaning.

Having humility is, in part, a healthy approach to reality testing. Demonstrating humility can be an important part of deepening trust and expressing appreciation.

Talking tentatively is, in short, a more emotionally intelligent approach to conversations.


When we ask what others think we are saying to them, “I don’t have all the answers or the answer and I’m open to learning from you.” This can be a wonderful demonstration of humility. And imagine what is going on for the individual whose opinion is sought? “Wow, my leader just asked me for my perspective, it must be important – I must be important.”

The flipside is when we make pronouncements, autocratic decisions, or definitive statements, as if they are not up for discussion, we then communicate that we are important – others are not. In fact, we don’t even really care what they think and their input is not important to us.

In conclusion, think highly of yourself, but not too highly. There’s always more to learn. What do you think?

A leader stands with their index finger in the air and a key hovers over their head

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