logo image

ATD Blog

When Management Becomes Dirt: Leading With Humility


Tue Nov 24 2015

When Management Becomes Dirt: Leading With Humility

True humility is rarely practiced, yet often preached. What does humility mean to you?

Outward acts of charity, being modest and meek, or even being humiliated may come to mind. Often, people attach acts of kindness to the concept of being humble.


Here’s an easy way to remember humility. The root word of humility is humus, meaning dirt. So when management becomes the dirt that their associates walk on, then true humility is achieved. By becoming the foundation of support and belief that inspires their teams, humble managers are transformed into effective leaders.

Don’t be fooled. Humility is never achieved through doing, but rather through a state of being—an internal mindset rather than an external display. Managers should embody these three intentions to step into a higher level of management:

  • a sense of awe and joy to be in the position to serve 

  • an authentic eagerness to care about and consider the needs of others before yourself 

  • the courage to make a decision that will place others before yourself, without anyone finding out.

You might be wondering, “If all of these managers are being so humble in secret, how can we tell?”

Just ask their teams.

You can spot humble managers by the energy they exude. They provide a feeling of assuredness, confidence, and empowerment to their associates. They make you feel safe around them, as though they’ve got your back.


Human beings have emotions. We react to the same triggers whether at home or at work. Effective managers are the ones who give the credit when the going is good, and those who take the blame when the going gets tough.

We’ve all experienced managers who empowered us, and we’ve also experienced the opposite. So why would we ever be like the latter?

Well, what if it’s not our fault? What if the way we be, is a programmed inclination rather than a chosen intention?

It’s similar to parenting. No matter how many books they read and bits of advice they receive, many parents end up acting like their parents—good, bad, or indifferent.

So like many profound breakthroughs in life, the key to unlocking the applications of common sense, lie within a simple paradox. In this case, the paradox is the programming of how we’ve been taught managers should be (even told how managers should be), and the way we wish managers would be—inclination versus intention.


Is it our point-of-view or the view that we point from? That’s really the question. And this isn’t just observed in the decision of what type of manger we are, this is the paradox of the lives we live in all areas of existence, from individual relationship to international exchange.

Are we acting out based off of programming and inclination, or are we consciously choosing the outcome of the type of person that we want to be? Fortunately, these are where simple and proven transformational technologies can come in handy.

What if it was as simple as taking a photo of ourselves and just being honest with the image that we’re projecting? What if it was as simple as being authentic and enrolling others to keep you authentic about who you’re being versus who you’re choosing to be? 

Source: Adapted from Human Activation. 2015. “Phase 1—Cornerstone Humility.” Human Activation Curriculum.

You've Reached ATD Member-only Content

Become an ATD member to continue

Already a member?Sign In


Copyright © 2024 ATD

ASTD changed its name to ATD to meet the growing needs of a dynamic, global profession.

Terms of UsePrivacy NoticeCookie Policy