How to Use Humility to Drive Performance (HBR)

I’ve written before about the importance of humility as a leadership trait. But, as was recently pointed out to me, humility is an important trait in employees, too.

When people act humbly, they are acknowledging their limitations and accepting that they cannot go it alone. This mindset is valuable to a team because it serves as an invitation for others to help. Humility, however, is not an excuse for slacking. It also means having the willingness to help others do their jobs when the need arises. It is a means for allowing different personalities to coordinate with each other.

Rick Hensley, an executive with Messer Construction, reminded me of the importance of this trait in employees after I mentioned humility in keynote address I recently delivered at Miami University. Rick, a vice president for information technology, has developed a “personal humility index” that he uses when interviewing job candidates.

Among the things Rick looks for are self-awareness, a “strong sense of modesty,” the “use of we and team versus I and me,” and the candidate’s desire to develop different levels of employees. Rick wants candidates to “see themselves as others see them.” Trustworthiness, along with integrity and honesty, are essential.

Fostering humility at work requires leadership and putting what you believe into action. Here are some suggestions.

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First posted on on 11/05/2009