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Humility In The Workplace

Humility is often depicted as a virtue, sometimes a spiritual virtue, and it’s interesting to me that so much has been written in the last several years about the importance of it in leadership and work teams.

Some of my favorite leadership authors say emphatically that to be humble is one of the more important characteristics to workplace success:

“Humility is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of being a team player.”

-Patrick Lencioni, The Ideal Team Player

“Great leaders don’t need to act tough. Their confidence and humility serve to underscore their toughness.”

-Simon Sinek, Be Real with People

Humility is foundational to all people who learn from their wins and losses. It is a key to success at the highest level.”

John Maxwell, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn

Humility is not self-deprecation, meekness or weakness. In fact, the most truly humble people have strong self-confidence and the ability to honestly assess themselves. But arrogance, self-importance and feelings of superiority to others are at the opposite end of the humility spectrum.

Clearly, humility is recognized as a trait that is relevant and important to success. So why do we see so little of it in our society? Would we know genuine humility if we saw it? More specifically, what does humility really look like in the workplace? At Faith Technologies, I have the opportunity to coach team members across our organization. Below are some things I often recommend to demonstrate and practice humility.

  1. Focus on Others. Have you ever worked with someone who had a way of making you feel that you mattered, or that your contributions were important? That person in your life was likely a humble person. We all can be that person for others on our teams, it just takes some intentional focus on the other person or people. You can show your focus is on the other person when you:
    • Ask for and listen to their thoughts and opinions. When someone is brave enough to share their thoughts with you, affirm them. But what if their idea seems crazy to you? Then demonstrate that you want to understand and ask questions that will help you and them learn.
    • Show others that you care about them. Sometimes when I suggest this in the work environment, people balk. You may think this is not possible when you don’t really know the other person, or harder still if you don’t like them. I’m not suggesting you should act like you are best friends; I’m simply asking that we are kind to one another. Don’t know where to start? Try using their name when you address them. Ask how they are. Offer to help them with a task or project. Share knowledge and information that could support them.
    • Be aware of how you speak of them. Whether you are speaking to someone directly or speaking about someone, be careful in the words you choose. If you see them doing something good, compliment them. If you must address negative behavior, do so honestly and respectfully. Humility avoids exaggeration and doesn’t gossip.
  1. Think of Yourself… Less. The following quote is often attributed to CS Lewis and is a favorite on the topic of humility: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Of course we think of ourselves; I am the only one that is with me every single minute of every day! But how does humility demonstrate itself in how I present myself, and how is this lived out at work?
    • Be confident in your own value. A humble person is honest about themselves and others. When you are honest about yourself, you realize that who you are matters. Your intellect, personality, thoughts, dreams, experiences and accomplishments allow you to bring a unique and important perspective to the world. When we are convinced of this, we can more easily let go of self-promotion and bragging. We can receive compliments for good work with a simple “thank you.” It’s a quiet confidence that demonstrates humility.
    • Own your shortcomings. Humility sometimes requires vulnerability. To demonstrate our humility to others at work, don’t be afraid to admit when you missed the mark. Honestly owning your behaviors is a true sign of humility. Humility is brave when it uses phrases like “I don’t know,“ “I need help,” “I made a mistake” or “I’m sorry.”

Humility is an essential component of building trust and success among teams. Do you coach others on the value of humility? I’d love to hear your ideas on how you instill humility in your organization.