Should you hire for humility?

Should you hire for humility?

The very simple and short answer is yes, you should hire for humility. Because humility makes everyone better. It makes the individual better, it makes people around the individual better, and ultimately it makes the entire team and organization better. 

In spite of the long and rich history in philosophy and theology, humility has for a long time been a highly underrated and overlooked topic within organizational research. Luckily, this has in more recent years changed. Humility has become a popular topic within research and by practitioners an individual characteristic recognized as highly valuable for both employees and leaders.

A misunderstood characteristic

There are primarily two reasons why humility as a personality characteristic hasn’t received as much attention as other ones. The first is because it isn’t a part of the five-factor model, upon which most of the traditional assessments are built. Secondly, humility has wrongfully been seen as a sign of weakness within the workplace. However, things have changed.

Firstly, the rise of the HEXACO personality model (Ashton & Lee, 2007) was a break-through. The model proposes a sixth factor emphasizing humility and other related traits. It has made it more accessible for research to specifically look at humility as a personality trait in relation to workplace-related outcomes. This line of research has identified a long list of positive workplace outcomes related to humility. And, as if that wasn’t enough, it has also managed to predict negative outcomes related to the lack of humility.

Humility has wrongfully been seen as a sign of weakness within the workplace.

Secondly, the earlier misconception of humility as a sign of weakness, insecurity, and a low opinion about oneself, has been replaced by a more general understanding of humility as a characteristic that is positive in the workplace. If you do not already hire for humility in your current talent management processes, we hope this post will make you think differently. 

Do you want to know more about how to measure humility?

What is Humility

Simply put, humility can be defined in terms of having a grounded and egalitarian view of oneself and other people. Although quite a few definitions of humility exist, these four areas are common themes:

  • Willingness to obtain an accurate view of oneself and other people,
  • Appreciation for others’ strengths and contributions, 
  • Openness to learning from others and being teachable, 
  • Having a low self-focus. 

Clearly, nothing in this definition indicates insecurity or low self-worth, but arguably the complete opposite. Humility should be seen as a sign of strength in that these individuals are secure enough in themselves to admit limitations and failures, recognize others’ contributions and competence, and lift others towards success.

You should see humility as a sign of strength

Things you can expect to see in a humble employee

  • Self-awareness: Humble individuals are willing to obtain accurate self-awareness. This is of course highly valuable across situations as having an accurate self-awareness enables the individual to develop and grow. 
  • Self-acceptance: Humble individuals tend to be secure in themselves and have a strong level of self-acceptance. This enables them to recognize shortcomings and limitations in themselves as well as admit failures. 
  • Egalitarianism: Humble individuals view others as having equal intrinsic worth as themselves, which results in the more fair treatment of others. 
  • Other focus: Humble individuals tend to focus more on other people and appreciate their competence, making them more likely to genuinely enjoy seeing others succeed. 
  • Prosocial behaviors: Humble individuals are more likely to provide help to others and they show more sharing behaviors.

Things you should NOT expect to see in a humble employee

(but do expect to see these behaviors in individuals scoring low on humility)

  • Taking credit: Humble individuals do not take credit for others’ work. In addition, they might even be hesitant to take credit for their own work, preferring to recognize everyone who made contributions.  
  • Bragging or self-promoting: Humble individuals are being modest and able to put their own accomplishments into perspective. They commonly dislike talking about their own achievements. In fact, they are not likely at all to over-emphasize or exaggerate things which are common to bragging and self-promotion. 
  • Superiority and inferiority: Humility is defined by the sense of equal worth of people. Specifically, it makes it unlikely for a humble person to create feelings of superiority or inferiority among others. This makes humility a highly desirable trait in leadership and the lack thereof a highly undesirable trait. 
  • Entitlement: Humble individuals are aware of their own limitations. They are able to put their own accomplishments in perspective and therefore are less likely to view themselves as superior and entitled to more than others 
  • Greed: Humble individuals value fairness since they think that others are of equal worth. It is therefore very unlikely that you will see a humble individual trying to receive more than others. They never demand unrealistic rewards or seek status and other aspects signaling more worth than others. 
  • Exploitativeness: Humble individuals have no interest in using other people for their own means. They rather enjoy seeing other people succeed. This does not mean humble people don’t care about their own success, but only that they do not take advantage of others to reach their own goals.

Humility for organizational success

Humility has been found to improve organizational performance in many areas. To list them all deserves a future post of its own, so let’s just look at a few examples demonstrating the importance of humility in leadership.

Hire for collective humility

Humble leaders do foster more collective humility in their teams. Hence, this results in more of a growth climate within the team and ultimately a higher team performance.

Build psychological safety and engagement

Teams with a humble leader feel more psychologically safe. This in turn relates to higher employee engagement. Research shows for example that humble leaders build the important team strength named Psychological Capital (PsyCap, defined as psychological capacities including self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and resilience; Luthans & Youssef, 2007). This enables the team to allocate tasks more effectively to improve overall team performance.

Hire for humility – and make more money

Lastly, even at the highest level of leadership, you can notice the positive effect of humility. Organizations with a humble CEO perform better financially because their top management team (TMT) tends to collaborate and integrate better. In addition, they ensure more equal pay among the members of their TMT, which has a positive effect on the team. Humble CEOs are also more likely to demonstrate empowering leadership and their organizations have a more empowering organizational climate. 

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It’s time to get started

In conclusion, this has hopefully given you some insight into why humility is an important personality characteristic to attend to. As stated above, the research is clear. You should encourage humble behaviors within the organization. Therefore, it’s time to start assessing humility in your recruiting and promotion processes. Everyone is a winner when you integrate humility as part of your organizational philosophy.

Do you want to get started with assessing humility?

Did you like the article? You’ll find all references in this article here.