Does Humility Have A Place In Business?
Bravado is defined as a bold manner or a show of boldness intended to impress or intimidate. For many entrepreneurs, bravado is their go-to move. Fake it ‘til you make it. Act as if you already have the order. Failure is not an option. All good sentiments, sometimes. But what about the other times?
How about humility?
Humility is defined as a modest or low view of one’s own importance. It is the attitude of humbleness. Great for church or for your kids, but does humility have a place in business?
The University of Washington Foster School of Business thinks so. They found that “humble people tend to make the most effective leaders and are more likely to be high performers in both individual and team settings.” Um, what about the squeaky wheel and the grease? What about “might makes right”?
Let’s look at how humility might play out in a business environment. I would suggest that . . .
- Humility is required to address weaknesses and problems in your organization. If you can’t admit that you aren’t always perfect, it is easy to develop blind spots. Just like when you drive your car, your competition can sneak up in your blind spots and pass you when you aren’t looking. No one has it all figured out. No one.
- Humility is necessary to get the help you need when you are struggling. Entrepreneurs generally hate to ask for help or even admit they are struggling, yet that very help might be what saves them. They would rather go down with the ship instead of admitting they have a leak. Humility allows you to let your guard down and get help.
- Humility is an attractive quality for a boss or leader. Let me let you in on a secret – your employees already know when you are wrong. When you refuse to admit or acknowledge it, you lose credibility in their eyes. You can have honest conversations when you admit you don’t know it all and need their help. Plus, they will feel empowered.
- Humility is valuable for a salesperson/customer service professional. Everyone has had an experience with salespeople who know it all and are quick to demonstrate that they do, often at the expense of gathering much-needed information from the customer. Conversely, we have also experienced a customer service professional that listened carefully to what we really needed and then got it for us. Who would you rather deal with? Who do you think was successful long-term?
- Humility is required to be coachable and to grow. It is almost impossible for constructive criticism to do its job if the recipient isn’t humble enough to listen. For many employees who can’t receive and learn from constructive criticism, the only alternative is to lose their job. For companies that can’t do it, they lose orders and customers and business.
- It is counter-intuitive to many entrepreneurs to be vulnerable or humble. Humility may have to be a practiced or learned skill, or it may already be there, having been covered by a layer of conventional-wisdom bravado. If you are humble by nature (good for you!), stop trying to be somebody else and embrace it.
Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) suggests, “The X-factor of great leadership is not personality, it is humility.” Unfortunately, many of us have not seen humility modeled in the workplace. Instead, we have worked for that egomaniac or sociopath who suffers from a complete lack of self-awareness. Many of you started your own business because of someone like that. It didn’t work for them then, and it won’t work for you now. Consider the path of conscious humility. You can always go back to acting like a jerk if it doesn’t work for you.