The $1.3-billion Piramal Group has included humility as one of the success factors in its high-performance behaviour chart. The conglomerate, with interests as diverse as healthcare and financial services, has come out with ‘Piramal Success Factors’, which include “think big”, “serve customers”, “collaborate” and “humility”. “Our performance management process considers humility as an important input. Additionally, we also look for this competency in high potential identification and development and recruitment,” said Nandini Piramal, Executive Director, Piramal Enterprises. “Our values are closely linked to our enduring success. We have, therefore, converted these core values into a set of everyday observable behaviours that will help employees succeed,” said Piramal.
The fondness for the virtue comes from the realisation that humility does not undermine an individual’s assertiveness to realise his or her goals. Organisations are increasingly giving equal weight to both hard goals as well as soft behaviours. In an age where authoritarian power is being questioned from the classroom to the boardroom, the emerging research is conclusive – humility is a dramatically more powerful and effective way of leading. Scientific inquiry into the power and effectiveness of humility in the workplace has shown that it offers a significant “competitive advantage” to leaders.
According to a study from the University of Washington Foster School of Business, humble people tend to make the most effective leaders (that’s right, the most) and are more likely to be high performers in both individual and team settings, according to associate professor Michael Johnson. Unsurprisingly, researchers found that employees who rated their managers as humble reported feeling more engaged and less likely to quit. They also reported being more committed to a leader’s vision, and more trusting and receptive to their ideas. “Our study suggests that a ‘quieter’ leadership approach – listening, being transparent, aware of your limitations and appreciating co-workers strengths and contributions, is an effective way to engage employees,” Johnson and fellow researchers Bradley Owens and Terence Mitchell write in the study.
The risks of lacking humility.
It’s no secret that executives are often hired based on skills and experience, but fired based on personality. Arrogance, narcissism, and Machiavellianism are factors that we now know regularly precipitates executive failure. Former CEO of Enron Jeff Skilling, junk bond king and white collar criminal Michael Milken, and one-time leader at American International Group (AIG) Joe Cassano were all executives lionized by business publications as if their overconfidence was a clear indicator of paranormal abilities, super intelligence, infallible strategic vision and magical oratory skills. Yet, all of these leaders were credited as the cause for the collapse of their organizations. More recently we’ve seen former Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries and Thorstein Hein of Blackberry exemplifying how leaders should not behave at the top. Yet while their behaviour may seem obvious to some, it remains largely ignored by most boardrooms, who often look the other way because of the preconception that overconfidence equates to wisdom, when it can often be just a mask to hide self-doubt.
Humility may not be what you think it is.
One of the challenges in proposing a power in humility is that many of us associate it with weakness and an inability to stand up for ourselves. But humility, as it turns out, has nothing to do with weakness precisely because it requires a substantial inner strength to embody – one that not only welcomes feedback and criticism but knows that it is one of the fundamental ways that we grow. In this way, the ability to ruthlessly self-reflect and accurately see our limitations, as much as our strengths, is essential to reaping the benefits of humility. Dean of HBS, Nita Nohria, whose department has conducted extensive research on various types of leaders, found that all of those who were successful shared one quality in common: reflectiveness, or the ability to possess an accurate view of themselves – warts and all. In practical terms this means that humble leaders have trained themselves to see the world around them with a much deeper level of clarity.
For deeper coverage of the subject matter, consider getting a copy of The Power of Humility, and you will be glad you did.