humility in business

Why Humility is an Asset in the Business World

It may surprise you that humility is one of the 10 traits of successful people. After all, humility is often paired with the opposite of confidence, one of the key attributes of a successful person. So how can you be confident and humble? Is that like being short and tall?

In fact, humility is taking center stage, these days, in the business world and even academia, at a time when narcissism seems more prevalent than ever. Humility is, indeed, a good thing. It requires looking at humility a little differently.

What Humility Is

It may be helpful to look at what humility is not, to fully understand what it is. Humility is not self-deprecation, where you might criticize yourself (though some do that in jest). Humility is not “always being nice.” Humility is not deferring to others for wisdom as if you somehow lack self-trust. In fact, humility is not thinking less of ourselves, it’s thinking more of others.

Humility is:

  • Being teachable and willing (even eager) to learn new things
  • Being collaborative and thinking enough of others that you welcome their input and feedback
  • Being transparent and willing to admit mistakes, then learn from them

When you see humility in this light, you see that it is not so much a personality trait as it is a business soft-skill, like excellent communication, which is needed to succeed in the business world. You can absolutely be confident and humble at the same time (just not cocky, arrogant and narcissistic, the true opposites of humility).

Developing Traits for Success

Some major errors occur in popular thinking when it comes to success. Here are three common ideas that have been proven completely false.

  1. That personality can’t change — It’s an error to assume that character traits for success are somehow inherent and unchangeable. Some go so far as to say, “You’ve either got the personality for success or you don’t.” The opposite is true because personality traits can change, many times and in innumerable ways, over a lifetime. How they change, and how much, is even possible to control.
  2. That there’s one “right” personality — The idea that certain personality traits somehow make one more successful is popular western mythology, and part of what led people away from the recognition of humility as a strength. Quiet leaders are just as effective as bubbly extroverts (in some cases, even more so). Disorganized people can be just as successful as the incredibly orderly. One can change the personality traits one wishes to while retaining core character and values.
  3. That products matter more than soft-skills — From the ideology of the cult of personality (a term with roots in Stalin’s power hunger), came the idea that if you are generally boorish, even bulldoze others to get your way, it doesn’t matter, so long as you are good at what you do. In recent years, the opposite has been proven. In fact, those who treat their employees badly more often end up with a PR-crisis on their hands. Those who grow businesses and rise to the top are more often kind, warm-hearted, and humble.

Make a Change

If humility, then, is changeability, examine the ways in which you can (and want to) change. Working on those soft-skills, such as improving your communication skills, is as integral to success. If you devote time to learning new software or procedures, new skills or systems, you can certainly spend equal time on soft-skills.

The boss who can learn from mistakes and demonstrate intellectual humility has better judgment. The co-worker who can recognize new data (and, therefore, not be a know-it-all) collaborates more effectively. You’ll be easier to work with and more likely to succeed.

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