England football manager Gareth Southgate is increasingly achieving coaching success on the field, but he is also famous for his humility.
And the man who led his country to a World Cup semi-final, followed by a narrow defeat on penalties in last year’s European Championship final, is an ideal example of humble leadership.
That’s the view of Dr Xiaoshuang Lin, a lecturer in leadership at Aston Business School, who spoke about her work in the latest episode of the Aston Means Business podcast series, presented by journalist Steve Dyson.
Lin, who has previously studied in Australia, Canada and China, talked about the two separate concepts of ‘servant leadership’ and ‘humble leadership’ styles in business today.
She said: ‘A humble leader is open to feedback and suggestions from others and will recognise followers’ strengths and ideas. Their second characteristic is open-mindedness or self-awareness. They have a good reflection on their own strength and weakness, [and] will not feel scared to share their weakness. They want to become better so will give opportunities for followers to teach them, to help them to improve.’
Lin said: ‘Gareth Southgate is famous for his humble leadership because he demonstrates an empathy, humility, when he leads the football team to go for success. When there’s a failure or problems, he never feels scared to say: ‘OK, I’m wrong, we need to learn from this mistake’. This kind of admission is not easy.’
Lin added that during Euro 2020, where England lost to Italy in the final, the manager and team demonstrated humility whenever they won a game. ‘Gareth will never say ‘the success is my own success’. He will say the achievement is the whole team’s effort. [And] he is very open to others’ strengths. He continuously shows humility after success and recognises the efforts of every team player.’
Lin said the late Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was also very humble, in that he was not afraid to learn from others, nor scared of failure when trying new things.
The separate concept of servant leadership has several strands, Lin explained. Firstly, she said they are literally servants because they ‘serve for us’. They also provide ’emotional healing’ by comforting followers if they are depressed or very upset.
They also help followers to develop their careers, have high moral standards and strong ethics, help others in the local community, and give lots of opportunities to followers to implement their ideas.
Lin said famous examples of servant leaders included Mother Teresa, ‘who dedicated her whole life to make other peoples’ lives better’, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. She said a more recent example was Starbucks boss Howard Schultz, who ‘devoted his engagement to the employees’ needs and development’.
She said servant leaders can especially benefit service industries like hairdressers, restaurants and banks, although they are more likely to be found in East Asia due to that regions culture of “collectivism”.
Lin said it was very hard for ‘nice, friendly, and supportive’ servant leaders to be ‘tough’ when a business faced downturns or dramatic change. And more mature and experienced workers won’t always require servant leadership and may even avoid them. ‘It’s like a mother who molly-coddles her children until they grow up and become adults.’
Lin said more of both servant leaders and humble leaders were needed in modern businesses today, but added: ‘We cannot overly rely on them. If the whole organisation or whole world only had servant and humble leaders – it would become a disaster.’ She added that some employees may take advantage of such leaders and become lazy, so what was needed was a combination of different styles.