Why the Humble Employee Is the Hidden Powerhouse of the Office

Being humble in today’s office is, unfortunately, not seen as a good thing by some people. Especially by a lot of people in power. They believe humility is a weakness and not a virtue. We exist in a society that celebrates bluster and encourages competition. Five year olds on a pee wee soccer field are derided for getting participation medals for having the audacity to be out there to learn the game, not to beat other five year olds.

By the same token, it’s the same at work. We are constantly instructed to speak up, be assertive, self-promote and beat the competition. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that humility is overlooked in people. Yet, it might be one of the most valuable human qualities in the workplace.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of humility is “freedom from pride or arrogance, the quality or state of being humble.” I would add that humility is what we show the outside world. A great general in the army might be a brilliant tactician and would rightfully take pride in that fact. However, he also knows that his battle plan only worked because of the efforts and sacrifices of the men and women serving under him.

In the workplace, humility is our ability to admit that we don’t know everything and someone else may have a perfect solution to the challenge that faces the department, or company as a whole.

So, why is humility important in the workplace? Because it …

  • Reminds us to keep learning
  • Enables us to ask for advice regardless of whether we sit in the board room or the mail room
  • Keeps us quiet when we’re in a conversation about something we know little about
  • Means giving before we receive
  • Helps us listen to, recognize and acknowledge when someone else’s idea is better than ours
  • Makes it possible for us to admit our mistakes and apologize for them
  • Dramatically affects how we work on a team

Yet, good old-fashioned humility has an image problem these days. There’s an underlying belief that humble people don’t get ahead in the business world. There’s a belief that basic humility gets crushed in the rush for results at all costs, and further pummeled by insecurity, work pressure and oversized egos.

Part of the blame can probably be laid at the feet of the late, great Steve Jobs, a visionary who famously didn’t have an ounce of humility in his body. Many Millennials that grew up with iPhones and iPads in their hands, treat him like a tech god and aspire to be like him. Humility has no place in their world.

So, if you’re the next Steve Jobs, you probably don’t need humility. However, for the rest of us, there is something very powerful about humble people that should be emulated. Humble people are healthier, well-adjusted, are better leaders and generally have a work team behind them that would do the proverbial “run through a wall for them”.

Whereas critics believe that humility means being non-assertive, meek, or thinking very little of yourself and your abilities, it’s actually the opposite. It’s more about a proper or accurate assessment. A big part of humility is knowing our own limits, our strengths and weaknesses.

Learn to be humble. Here’s some advice to get you started:

Know thyself through others

It’s hard for most of us to accurately self-assess. Ask for candid feedback from a few people who know you well. Then, you’ll know what your weaknesses are better.

Never stop learning

Improvement is a lifelong process that should never stop, even when you’re really good at something. Whether it’s through books, classes, or people, continue to learn.

Be appreciative of help when given

Be willing to receive advice, corrections, and contributions. True gratitude takes a willingness not to be the sole contributor to your accomplishments. Keep a gratitude journal where you write down ways that others have contributed to your success. You’ll be more aware of your dependency on others.

This struggle to maintain our humility is age old, as summed up in this Benjamin Franklin quote: “In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself.”

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