Boasting vs. humility: which one wins?
March 19, 2016 By James Adonis – one of Australia’s best-known people-management thinkers
Of all the management clichés I detest, and there are many, the most nauseating would have to be “toot your own horn” or its Australian manifestation: “blow your own trumpet”.
They’re idioms for idiots because they neglect what would have to be one of the most essential leadership qualities: humility.
Humility often gets a bad rap. It’s frequently associated with weakness, low self worth, lack of assertiveness and introversion (as though being introverted is a bad thing; it’s not).
In one small study conducted over a decade ago, humility was seen as a mostly positive attribute – except when it came to matters of leadership ability, in which case people had some unfortunate reservations.
But as the scholars conclude, just because humble leaders are perceived doubtfully doesn’t mean they aren’t great leaders.
The humble miss out
It’s just that we live in a world bombarded by advice that suggests leaders must be heroic, visionary, charismatic, energetic, and that to get ahead you must grab your trumpet and blow it lest someone else blows their’s harder in a battle of the blowhards.
And so the humble miss out. Not because they’re incapable but because they can’t be bothered playing a role in the cacophonous pantomime.
Which is a shame when you consider the increasing rate of empirical research that demonstrates the value of being a humble boss. Take, for example, a study published last year in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Before I share the findings, some context first.
The researchers were aware of prior research that indicates several admired characteristics can develop into unfavourable extremes when they’re not kept in check.
Slice of humble pie works
Confidence, for instance, can become arrogance; self-esteem can lead to hubris; charisma can morph into eccentricity; and competitiveness can be a gateway drug that hooks people into unethical behaviour.
So the scholars ran a study to see whether narcissistic leaders could be effective if they were occasionally humble. The finding, of course, was an emphatic yes. By also being humble, they were perceived as better letters, their employees’ performance improved, and so did their team’s level of engagement.
It seems somewhat of a contradiction but it’s true: even the toxic part of a narcissist’s personality can be judged positively if it’s interspersed with a dash of humility.
That means over-confidence can occur in tandem with seeking help; heightened self-esteem can occur in unison with admitting fault; charisma can co-exist with giving due credit; and likewise competitiveness with teamwork.
It comes back to what Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Robert Millikan, referred to as the need to understand “the depths of our ignorance”.
By conceding we don’t know as much as we think we do, and that we aren’t as superior as we think we are, we’re brought down to Earth just a notch. And that makes us a more appealing leader and evidently a more successful one, too.
In an essay published six months ago in the Journal of Business Ethics, a professor from Spain’s esteemed IESE Business School conceptualised the ways in which humility can be acquired. Some of his suggestions include the following:
First, recognise the importance of it in the workplace;
Notice humility in others and imitate those same actions;
Take responsibility for your mistakes;
Be cognisant of your limitations;
Ask for advice; and
Don’t look down on others.
He adds that “in the early stages of moral progress, when a manager is still not very humble, she may find it difficult to perform these acts because they will go against her spontaneous motivations, like the desire to stand out, to assert herself or to look good before others, and it will require force of will to carry them out.”
In other words, you may have to put the trumpet down for a tune or two.
Do you consider humility to be a virtue? Or is it a weakness?
James Adonis’ latest book is How To Be Great. Follow MySmallBusiness on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Original article here