In a world that celebrates boastful, self-aggrandizing behavior, you might be surprised to learn that researchers and employment experts are highlighting an opposite quality as the key to better leadership at work:

It's the quality of humility.

"Humility is a core quality of leaders who inspire close teamwork, rapid learning, and high performance in their teams, according to several studies in the past three years," writes Sue Shellenbarger in her column for The Wall Street Journal. "Humble people tend to be aware of their own weaknesses, eager to improve themselves, appreciative of others' strengths, and focused on goals beyond their own self-interest."

Shellenbarger went on to cite research that indicated:

  • Teams whose leaders demonstrated humble traits performed better and did higher-quality work than teams whose leaders showed less humility
  • Upper-management teams at companies with "humble" chief executives were more likely to "work smoothly together, help one another, and share decision-making," when compared with other teams 
  • Such companies are likely to have smaller pay gaps between the CEO and other senior executives, which in turn predicted closer collaboration, leading to greater company-wide efficiency, innovation, and profitability

If you think humility is a sign of weakness, please realize that being humble doesn't mean that you lack self-confidence or that you never stand up for your own opinions or principles. Quite the opposite: Humble people must be very strong and secure with themselves. In contrast, insecure people are constantly striving to make themselves look better than others.

So, how do you know if you're a humble person? Or how can you work on developing your humility?

Here are 10 behaviors humble people practice:

1. They listen.

Arrogant people rarely listen. They like to be the ones talking, and if they let others speak, they're usually already thinking about what they want to say next.

In contrast, humble people listen carefully when others are speaking. They resist the urge to interrupt and solve; instead, they pay rapt attention and empathetically strive to relate to the other person's point of view. At the right time, they ask tactful questions--not with the goal to judge, but rather to understand.

2. They identify their weaknesses. 

Haughty people refuse to admit their weaknesses. They fear that doing so may expose them or leave them vulnerable.

In contrast, humble people recognize that no one is perfect. They recognize that true strength comes from identifying weaknesses and working to improve them.

3. They work hard.

Arrogant bosses try to avoid hard work. They feel like they've put in their dues and are now entitled: Save the hard work for the newer or less experienced.

Humble bosses don't ask someone to do anything they wouldn't do themselves or haven't done themselves. And when a member of their team needs help, a humble boss is ready to roll up their sleeves and join in the dirty work.

4. They praise others.

While vain people are quick to praise themselves or their own accomplishments, they resist praising others. 

Humble people, on the other hand, recognize the accomplishments of others and help them feel appreciated. Additionally, humble people realize that if you praise others when they do well, they'll strive to do more of the same.

5. They learn from feedback.

Arrogant people hate hearing criticism or even constructive feedback. And if they are forced to listen, they block it out.

But humble people know that most criticism is rooted in truth. And even if not, they recognize that at the very least an alternative perspective gives them a window into another person's thinking. Rather than avoid negative feedback, they actually ask for it--and use it to help them grow.

6. They put the team first. 

Arrogant leaders view themselves as "self-made." They highlight themselves and their role over those who helped them.

In contrast, humble leaders are quick to give credit to the team instead of hogging it all for themselves, knowing there's enough to go around.

7. They help their people grow.

Self-centered bosses use (and misuse) people on their teams. Once these bosses feel a person has outlived their usefulness, they kick them to the curb or quit engaging with them.

Great managers are invested in their people. Instead of holding them back for personal gain, they support them and help them reach their goals. This long-sighted perspective helps them build bridges and opens up opportunities wherever they go.

8. They ask for help.

Haughty persons refuse to ask for help, viewing it as a sign of weakness. 

But humble people recognize that they can't do everything on their own. By willingly asking for help, they benefit from the strengths and experience of others, help them feel useful, and inspire others to ask for help when they need it--leading to a win-win situation.

9. They keep their word.

Selfish people will agree to anything they think will be beneficial. But if their opinion changes, they're quick to go back on agreements.

In contrast, humble people stick to their commitments. They do so whether dealing with a signed contract or a simple handshake--even when circumstances shift or when they realize they've agreed to unfavorable conditions. 

10. They apologize.

An arrogant boss never apologizes. They do all they can to minimize the problem, shift the blame, or sidestep the issue.

Humble people aren't that way. Rather than make excuses, they're ready to admit mistakes. And even if they still feel they're right, they're still quick to apologize if they've hurt or offended others. In doing so, they naturally build trust and loyalty with others--even those with whom they disagree.

Humility isn't a quality you can feign, or just put on from one day to the next. It requires a shift in mindset, along with lots of effort and determination.

But striving to be humble will not only earn you the respect of others ...

You'll respect yourself more for it, too. 

Published on: Nov 12, 2018
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