For years, corporate cultures have highly valued two traits: intelligence and self-esteem. If you're intelligent, you can learn complicated skills quickly, a must in a rapidly changing world. And self-esteem gives you the confidence to put yourself forward as a leader.
Well, it happens that there's a character trait that's far more important to success than either IQ or self-esteem. Moreover, it's a character trait that never makes it into books about leadership and management. That trait? Humility.
As the BBC recently pointed out, Socrates (known to history as the wisest man who ever lived) valued humility above all other character traits. And scientific evidence has been accumulating that suggests Socrates was dead right.
For example, a study recently conducted at Brigham Young University had students rate other students' relative level of humility versus self-esteem, based on questions like: "This person actively seeks feedback, even if it is critical." As the BBC points out:
The results were striking, with the students rated humblest achieving better grades than those who were considered to have more inflated opinions of themselves. Indeed, the humility ratings proved to be a better predictor of performance than measures of actual intelligence. Humility was particularly important for some of the less gifted students, almost completely compensating for their lack of natural intelligence and allowing them to perform as well as people with much higher IQ scores.
In other words, when it comes to learning new things, self-esteem and even a high IQ can get in the way. Indeed, who doesn't know at least one genius who never achieved their potential, or at least one bragging blowhard who has way too much self-esteem?
Many super-smart people--especially those who think highly of themselves--believe that because they're experts on subject A, they're also experts on subjects B through Z. They don't have the humility to see their own limitations.
That's a huge liability in business, because when things change--as they certainly will--a super-smart, super-confident person will think they "get it," when in fact they're spitballing but lack the humility to practice some self-reflection and realize that they're spitballing.
It's a shame, then, that our corporate cultures don't value humility because our companies would be more successful and more adaptable, if leaders were willing to admit, to themselves and the world, that they have a lot to learn.