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Ensure a Positive Candidate Experience When Hiring Contingent Talent Remotely

As digitization, coupled with the global pandemic, propels contingent hiring online and with more individuals relying on employer reviewer sites to evaluate businesses, delivering a positive[...]

March 10, 2021

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Humility in Leadership: Battling the Vices of Pride

Most people wouldn’t immediately associate humility with leadership. To them, an ideal leader looks more like a superhero – strong and brimming with confidence. But humility holds a silent power. Scientists have just started researching the benefits of humility in leadership, and they’ve found that, often, humble leaders make the best leaders.

What is True Humility?

It sure seems like humility is in short supply these days. America has become a hotbed for narcissism, and social media only serves to fan the flames. Of course, confidence is a requisite of leadership, but humility and confidence are not mutually exclusive. In fact, recent studies have found that humility has a tempering effect – it’s a lens that helps us identify the areas where we need to change and grow. A 2016 Washington Post article describes the benefits of being humble:

“True humility, scientists have learned, is when someone has an accurate assessment of both his strengths and weaknesses, and he sees all this in the context of the larger whole. He’s a part of something far greater than he. He knows he isn’t the center of the universe. And he’s both grounded and liberated by this knowledge. Recognizing his abilities, he asks how he can contribute. Recognizing his flaws, he asks how he can grow.”

That’s not all. Humility seems to have an influence on critical thinking, as well. A Duke University study referenced in the article sought to find the differences between how the intellectually humble and intellectually arrogant processed statements on controversial topics laced with false information. The intellectually humble took their time when going over the list and were able to identify the information that didn’t sit right. In other words, they were better at spotting fake news – an important skill in today’s social climate.

Humility underlies many of the most valuable leadership skills. Driven by the desire to learn and grow, humble leaders are solution-oriented, open-minded, and fair. The humble leader is a mentor, a manager who isn’t afraid to relinquish control or admit their mistakes. It’s no wonder that employees who perceive their managers as altruistic feel their work environments are more inclusive and innovative. So, how can we become more humble in our work and personal lives?

Humility Can (and Should) Be Learned

For some, humility comes naturally. But for those who weren’t blessed with the ability to be humble, it should come as good news that humility is a learnable skill. Ben Franklin described humility as a “marked absence of the vices of pride.” These vices, which include smugness, arrogance, vanity, envy, and domination (among others) are directly opposed by of the vices of humility. By acquiring each “anti-vice,” we can become humble across all facets of self.

Fighting Smugness: Hold Yourself Accountable

There’s nothing worse than a leader who avoids or shifts the blame to preserve their own image. The most important tenet of being humble is owning up to your mistakes. Accountability in the workplace leads to improved performance. When employees and leaders are willing to admit their mistakes, it creates an environment of acceptance and inspires critical thinking: it’s okay to make mistakes as long as we can address them, identify solutions, and move forward as a team. Leaders can serve as role models by encouraging accountability, starting with themselves.

Fighting Arrogance: Listen, Like, Really Listen

There’s a difference between listening and listening to talk. Everyone, at one time or another, has caught themselves politely waiting for a gap in the conversation so they can speak their piece. It happens. And though it may appear as if you’re listening, you’re not. Real listening doesn’t ride on the assumption that you know what the other person is thinking or going to say. Real listening is driven by curiosity, and it goes hand-in-hand with humility. Humble leaders know that they’re never done learning, and that every conversation is a dialogue; an exchange of ideas that offers a chance to learn something new.

Fighting Vanity: Learn to Take a Joke (or Criticism)

If the reactions at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner this past weekend were any indication, this administration could use a healthy dose of humility. I shouldn’t have to tell you that when you’re in a leadership position, there will be criticism, and there will be jokes - and you’re going to have to learn how to deal with the two. Luckily, a little humility goes a long way in that department. Humble people see criticism as a valuable opportunity to improve their skills or address their wrongdoings. They also know how to take a joke. If you want to practice humility in leadership, learn how to tell the difference between actionable criticism and jokes. No one likes the stone-faced, angry guest at the roast.

Fighting Envy: Be Selfless

Humility breeds selflessness. This is because humble people know their self-worth. They admire and support others - envy is not an emotion they feel. They are secure, and since they don’t need people to feed their ego constantly, they have the time and space to put others’ needs in front of their own. Humility and selflessness indicate emotional intelligence, another trait that many effective leaders share. Leaders can practice selflessness through situational awareness and empathy. Take the time to understand others, their needs, and what you can do to help them.

Fighting Domination: Pass the Baton

Leaders who lack humility tend to be micro-managers. They’re so focused on ensuring everything is done their way that they lose sight of the goal, and for that, the whole team suffers. In fact, there’s even scientific proof that micro-managing negatively affects employee performance. Forcing employees to cater to “my way or the highway” leadership is a surefire way to get them to quit. Humble leaders know this, so they work hard to promote employee autonomy. They have no problem backing off because they accept that they’re not always going to be the one with the answers. Most importantly, they’re confident in their employees’ skills and are always open to new ideas.

I won’t lie to you: learning to be humble isn’t going to be a walk in the park. It takes a great deal of self-reflection and emotional fortitude to better yourself as a person. Rest assured, though, the rewards are significant. It may not be an easy fight, but it’s a worthy one.

Scott Giroux
Scott Giroux
A long-time innovator with extensive leadership experience, Scott served on the executive team of a leading North American staffing firm prior to joining our team. At Crowdstaffing, Scott leads the company’s global operations and account management team and also drives growth of the talent supplier side of Crowdstaffing’s hiring marketplace. "There is so much untapped potential in our industry I’m thrilled to be part of a movement that is pioneering a connected marketplace for everyone in the hiring ecosystem."
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