Several months ago, we explored the merits of adopting the humanist commitment of humility as a leader. In recent weeks we have looked at the topic of employee engagement, beginning with the importance of worker trust in their leader, the essential role an employee's manager plays, and the need to ask the members of the workforce what is vital to them. Next, we will focus on infusing humility throughout the employee-engaged organization.
The American Humanist Association defines humility as "I will be aware of my strengths and weaknesses and appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of others." The self-aware recognizes their opportunity to contribute value to a work environment where others bring different strengths to the group. Understanding that we are neither better nor worse than our coworkers allows the opportunity to express gratitude for the various roles that each member contributes to the organization.
Humility is not a trait we think of when we reflect on the characteristics of industry giants like Elon Musk, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs. They used an autocratic style of limiting discussions, telling others what to do, and having no sense of teamwork. Indeed, an approach better suited for the historical past with less appeal to younger generations entering or already engaged in the workforce. Leaders who embrace humility as necessary see a significant overall organizational gain.
"Humility is the only lens through which great things can be seen – and once we have seen them, humility is the only posture possible." – Parker J. Palmer
A highly successful company that emerged from humble beginnings in a blacksmith shop where Yvon Chouinard manufactured pitons for $1.50 each embraces humility. Patagonia HR screens job applicants for this characteristic from the moment they first engage with the organization. If staff members report behaviors of candidates that exhibit self-absorbed or disrespectful behavior, it can become a "deal killer." They believe humble employees are integral to their mission of solving environmental problems. They ask candidates to share an example of a time when they "messed things up." Those willing to share moments of learning from past mistakes meet one of Patagonia's defined, attractive traits.
A study of the humility benefits to the organizational culture found that it was not just crucial for the leader to embrace this trait. Still, like Patagonia, it should be infused throughout a company. One where the company achieves tremendous success by everyone embracing experimentation, honesty, and learning. A humble organization has an honest and appreciative understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of others, a generous nature, an openness to advice and feedback, an ability to evaluate self and teams accurately, and deep engagement with one another. Six essential research findings include:
1. Accurate awareness – A thorough understanding of the company's mission and regular, accurate SWOT assessments (I would advocate using SOAR) allows the organization to genuinely understand what is necessary to improve.
2. Tolerating competent mistakes – A culture based on humility will allow employees the freedom to push the boundaries of current understanding, knowing that what some see as mistakes can lead to learning.
3. Transparency and honesty – A humble organization is one where individuals are open to sharing ideas while asking for and receiving improvement suggestions. Additionally, honesty within the organization leads to a more vital trust among their clients.
4. Openness – Regularly using the SWOT or SOAR frameworks with a willingness to external ideas allows the company to avoid the "not invented here" mentality that can foster a culture of incremental improvement of the status quo.
5. Employee development – Employees working in constant fire-fighting mode leave the organization through a revolving employment door. An environment of continuous learning and development using feedback from authentic SWOT or SOAR analysis of organizational needs will lead to quelling and eventually extinguishing the many existing fires.
6. Employee recognition – Authentic recognition of stellar employees exhibiting humble behaviors will lead to increased morale and validation of the organization's commitment to this element of employee engagement.
Infusing humility across the organization builds a culture that attracts and retains more innovative employees and productivity, leading to delighted customers and a more substantial reputation.
Companies embracing organizational humility can achieve tremendous success by embracing experimentation, honesty, and learning. One where the culture has an honest and appreciative understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of others, a generous nature, an openness to advice and feedback, an ability to evaluate self and teams accurately, and deep engagement with one another
Individuals interested in gauging their level of humility can ask themselves the questions in the Are You Intellectually Humble? 13 Tough Questions. An assessment of the perceived current level of humility allows a person to determine if there is a desire to work on becoming more intellectually humble. Additionally, it may be beneficial to ask trusted others to answer the questions as they view the individual to get a perspective of perceived individual answers and those of others.
I am grateful for those like Parker J. Palmer, who advocated human possibility through courage and authenticity long before others advocated this as a beneficial approach to living. One where authentic self-hood allows the pursuit of our deepest calling.
Next week's blog will continue to explore steps to lessen the waste of human potential as it relates to humanist manufacturing.
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