The dangers of being too humble: a warning for female leaders

The importance of humility in leadership is often touted by leadership experts. For example, it is widely claimed that humility allows leaders to effectively engage with their teams, understand divergent viewpoints and foster unity. However, it’s important to remember that there is also a downside to being too humble at work. In fact, being excessively humble is simply a sign of imposter syndrome.

For female leaders, the dangers of ‘over-humbling’ can be particularly grave. When women are excessively humble, they can unwittingly reduce their credibility with both peers and team members. If you’ve ever done this, you’ll know how much it can reduce your ability to make an impact as a manager or business owner. Sadly, this is a situation that can be used against female leaders by those seeking to undermine their authority or discredit their ideas. This is why I spend so much time teaching women to focus on shining, rather than self-effacing.

Let’s face facts. Overly humble leaders can be taken advantage of by political players and self-aggrandising colleagues. This makes early-career leaders, in particular, vulnerable to power games and sabotage. Plus, because so many women loathe engaging in office politics, it puts female bosses and team leaders at a distinct disadvantage in large organisations. Even in organisations which run Women in Leadership training, this problem is rarely addressed.


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Secondly, when female leaders are overly humble, they don’t speak up for themselves. They back down from difficult conversations or make concessions way too early in negotiations. This can be disastrous when it comes to setting and maintaining boundaries with team members or clients – something that every manager and business owner regularly needs to do. It also prevents women asking for promotions or being fairly remunerated for their efforts as leaders.

Finally, being too humble can cause female leaders to miss out on promotions after first breaking the glass ceiling. If a woman is too humble to accept credit for her accomplishments, she risks blending into the background and not being taken seriously by higher-ups. This is a classic example of what happens when a leader has Chameleon Syndrome – a toxic need to fit in at all costs. There are three signs a manager has this mindset.

  • She’s too humble to shine
  • She’s too busy to make an impact
  • She’s too nice to speak up

If this sounds like you, there is some good news.  You can overcome Chameleon Syndrome by working on your credibility, impact and confidence. That’s why I designed my Complete Confidence with NLP course in 2022 and why women enrol in it 5 times as often as men.

To find out more about how I help females managers become leaders who make a difference, continue reading my posts. I’ll be giving you lots of useful advice on how to overcome Chameleon Syndrome over the coming weeks.

This article was created by Eleanor Shakiba

Eleanor is a leadership trainer and success coach. Her mission is inspiring talented people to become leaders who make a difference.  Since discovering her passion for training and development, Eleanor has trained more than 60,000 people. She delivers face-to-face workshops for corporates, online masterclasses for leaders and Positive Psychology retreats for trainers, HR practitioners and leaders.