I was recently asked to recommend readings on humility for someone who aspires to be a better leader. I found that an interesting request, because I'm not a particularly humble person. I've taken the VIA Survey on Character Strengths three times over the last ten years, and every time humility has been the very last item in my results--so I'm clearly not the best resource on the topic. That said, I certainly find myself humbled on a regular basis by 1) thoughts of mortality and 2) a keen awareness of my limitations.
With regard to the former, I've learned the most from the Stoics, particularly Marcus Aurelius's Meditations and Seneca's On the Shortness of Life. I'd add Pema Chödrön's When Things Fall Apart to that list, although she's writing 2,000 years later from the Buddhist tradition.
With regard to the latter, I've learned the most from feedback, and it's been very helpful to work at being less defensive in response to criticism. (A lifelong effort, but I've made progress.) Here I recommend Carol Dweck's concept of a growth mindset, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen's Thanks for the Feedback, and some work of my own: Make Getting Feedback Less Stressful, as well as a webinar on the same topic, which includes a summary of my remarks. (See? Not very humble.)
And while recognizing the value of humility, I also believe we need to ask whether its absence is truly preventing effective leadership. Sometimes it does--see Bob Sutton's The No Asshole Rule--and sometimes what's characterized as a lack of humility is an essential element in the process of obtaining and wielding power effectively. Here work by David McClelland and Jeff Pfeffer (among others) is essential reading.
Photo by Ken Banks. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.