By Barb Ward

It has been shown that 50-70% of new leaders fail within their first 18 months on the job. 

What’s more, a Harvard Business Review survey reveals that companies spend $350 billion on training their employees every year, and an average of $13,500 per employee is spent on ineffective training. 

There are many factors that contribute to ineffective training, but companies can maximize their dollars if they focus on a few key elements of “Lean Learning”. This concept stresses programs that are short, affordable and provide employees and their organizations with an immediate capability update. Also, important is follow up to ensure the skills learned are being implemented in their work.

However, let’s take a step back even further. Providing targeted, concise, and effective professional development is only one part of the equation. Perhaps an even more important step is finding and hiring the right talent in the first place.

Why are leaders failing? 

The Center for Creative Leadership defined failure as the executive being fired, forced to resign, or receiving a significant performance review rating that suggests they are not meeting expectations.

Another study by Leadership IQ found that 89% of new executives fail do so because of attitudinal reasons, such as a lack of coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation, or a poor fit with the organization’s culture.

While the exact statistics may vary, the general consensus is that a significant percentage of new leaders do struggle in their roles, particularly in the first few months and years on the job. This highlights the importance of effective onboarding, coaching, and development programs for new leaders, and again brings us back to the most pertinent step in the process: hiring leaders with the character traits that make them more likely to succeed. 

So, what traits should we look for in our leaders?

We all likely have experiences where our leaders have demonstrated the benefits of both humility and highly driven competitive nature in their leadership styles. Both of these traits can be great assets to an organization and its employees. 

In fact, new research shows that humble leadership can improve professionalism and collaboration among team members. The study also reveals that humble leaders make their teams feel more empowered to share their knowledge because they felt psychologically safe to take risks. On the other side of the coin, highly driven leaders can have positive effects on strategic planning, goal achievement, job performance, innovation, and sales performance that directly affect the bottom line. 

The truth is, it’s probably easier for us to assimilate highly driven as a trait often identified with a successful leader. Those who are competitive have a drive to succeed, to win, and to work hard to achieve their goals… but humility? Humility is more often associated with weakness, inability to stand up for oneself, or being meek. Traits like integrity, courage, influence, and respect are the characteristics that we would more readily associate with effective leaders. However, a recent study illustrates that humility in leadership is more important than intelligence, experience, and charisma. The study also showed that teams with leaders who possessed humility had better performance, increased innovation and more effective teamwork.

So, it would seem that the magic is in the combination and interconnectedness of these traits in leaders who possess both. Let’s consider how these two traits work together as these leaders:

Strive for Excellence 

Highly driven leaders are extremely motivated to achieve excellence in their work and in their team’s performance. They set high standards for themselves and their team and continually strive to improve and outperform their competitors. However, they may focus so much on winning and outperforming others that they neglect the importance of collaboration and teamwork. This can lead to a culture of internal competition, which can ultimately harm team morale and productivity. But when we look at the traits a humble leader brings to the mix, we see a leader who is motivated to achieve excellence in their work and the work of their teams while also recognizing and valuing each team member’s contributions. This creates a culture where team members feel valued and are motivated to do their best work. 

Focus on Results

Highly driven leaders are extremely focused on achieving results and meeting goals. They set clear objectives and develop strategies to achieve them. While this is admirable and necessary to achieve organizational success, these leaders may be so driven to achieve results that they put excessive pressure on themselves and their team members, leading to burnout. While equally driven to achieve results, humble leaders approach situations differently, leading with a more collaborative approach that champions working together to attain a goal, and they do so with a more servant-leader attitude, building trust and letting their staff know that “we’re all in this together.” 

Aim for Innovation

Highly driven leaders may be more likely to take risks and try new approaches to achieve success. They look for new and innovative ways to gain a competitive edge in their industry. While some level of risk-taking is necessary for innovation and growth, these leaders may be more likely to take excessive risks that could harm the organization if they fail. Conversely, humble leaders value teamwork and collaboration, they have a growth mindset and believe that their team members can always learn and improve. While they also encourage experimentation and believe failure is a part of the process, they may be more conservative in their approach by evaluating all angles before taking a calculated risk. 

Lead with Resilience

Highly driven leaders handle challenges with resilience and determination. They bounce back quickly from setbacks and continue pushing forward to meet their goals. Their drive may cause them to prioritize results and winning over the well-being of their team members. Combining humble traits into this mix can enable the same resilience and determination while also offering empathy, compassion, and a deeper level of connection around the needs and concerns of team members. They encourage open communication and seek to build consensus and alignment within their teams.

At the end of the day, it is the balance between these two traits that create the magic. The combination allows leaders to balance humility with assertiveness, confidence, and accountability. These leaders are able to make tough decisions when necessary and hold team members accountable for their performance while still fostering a collaborative and positive team culture. This is why hiring talent with the right balance of character traits creates a good beginning point and then a great professional development program can do its job. This process can be time-consuming, but the end result will be worthwhile.

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