Through both ancient and modern history, humility has been a topic of discussion.
I’ve seen the topic of humility stated over and over in organizations as well - particularly within the larger companies, and mostly among the executive teams. “Humility is a good thing.” “Humility is one of our core values.” “Be humble.”
Why do they say this? Is this a mandate?
If it comes naturally for me, I’d say to the person asking, “ok, sure.”
If it doesn’t come naturally, I’d say, “ok, sure.”
Then I’d ask myself why, in business, are we even talking about humility. Now, granted, humility has a few definitions. I’m NOT speaking of the definition of humility that includes ‘ranking low in a hierarchy or scale’, nor am I speaking of the one that states, ‘reflecting, expressing or offered in a spirit of deference or submission.’
The definition of humility that shows up in business conversations is this one: ‘not proud or haughty; not arrogant or assertive.’
Ok, great. Most of us would be happier if we didn’t have to deal with an arrogant peer in the workplace. Then, we get introduced to our new boss that’s humble one minute and haughty the next. Or worse, cordial to her constituents and smug to her staff. And by most measurable means, she’s branded as a good leader because she says the right things and pulls in decent results.
Does humility really matter if we get the job done?
Yes. It does matter. In fact, it matters a great deal. Answer this question – are we attracted to arrogance, or repelled by it? If arrogance attracts you, please see me, I’d like to do a psychological case study.
Arrogance in a business environment is like a mold. It poisons the place. And unlike mold, most employees are aware it exists. Consequently, people either get rid of it or leave the area altogether. And like mold, it isn’t easy to get rid of it. Let’s put it this way, if our weekly meeting room had a toxic mold in it, would we be motivated to attend?
In business, potent lack of humility reveals itself in the form of employee turnover. Employees can be resilient, but no matter how strong the employee battling the mold, eventually, the poison wreaks its toll. What’s worse is if your mold commands the lead over others. Team leader molds can destroy an entire functional area within an organization. And like a mold, it takes its precious time roaming, contaminating, and rooting its grip to its organizational host.
This consequence damages the stability of company in many ways - organizational unity, sustainability, reliability, consistency, customer service, product quality, and employee satisfaction.
And if employees become displeased, we’ve punctured our organization’s lifegiving root.
Average Employee Turnover Rate by Industry
According to Mercer, a 75-year organization who provides benchmarking data on 17 million employees from over 6,000 organizations, they’ve gathered turnover data from multiple sources including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – here’s what they concluded in their 2018 U.S Turnover Study:
After looking at these numbers, we may say, great, our company’s turnover rate is only 15 percent. Let’s walk through some general numbers to study the impact of turnover at this rate.
In an organization with 1,000 employees making $50,000 each, losing 150 employees annually equates to a $7.5 million loss in revenue EVERY YEAR (assuming $50,000 each to replace them through recruiting, posting, training, lost productivity, etc.)
Plus (and to me, more devastating), we experience intensive and endless costs to our social capital, reputation, brand, organizational wisdom, and the more difficult task of recruiting efforts to find the best candidates.
What if we do nothing to address turnover?
It’s worse! A 2018 study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded the typical employee stays at a job for just over four years. Therefore, if we do nothing to address retention, we still incur 100 percent turnover every four years (or 25 percent turnover EVERY YEAR; reference previous paragraphs for devastating organizational impact.)
Diving still deeper into the issue, we may be able to isolate the cause of employees’ rapid departures. Here’s what we hear often, ‘people don’t leave a bad job, they leave a bad boss.’ Here’s what constitutes ‘bad’ - arrogant; dismissive; smug, vain, dominant, rude. The opposite of humility.
And the best employees typically leave first. So, if you’re seeing people leave your team, time for a humble gut-check and some redemptive decision-making.
All this begs the question…
Can we learn to be humble?
Humility is innate, isn’t it? Yes, it is innate in some people. Hopefully, most of us. Here’s what else I found.
Humility can be taught. Frankly, nearly anything can be taught. The real question is, can it be inherently LEARNED? With the learning, and for it to stick, the acts of humility must become genuine, authentic, true, heartfelt. There are strong arguments on both sides to whether we can learn to be humble.
Positively, I did find some good points from Scott Giroux, Vice President of Recruiting at Crowdstaffing. He addresses this issue in one of his articles in this way, “Humility can (and should) be learned.” Giroux references the following: “Ben Franklin described humility as a ‘marked absence of the vices of pride.’ These vices, which include smugness, arrogance, vanity, envy, and domination (among others) are directly opposed by of the vices of humility.”
Giroux further states, “by acquiring each ‘anti-vice,’ we can become humble across all facets of self.” And then he details these points on how to accomplish it:
Does fighting the vices in this way truly end up as genuine heartfelt humility? Jury’s still out on this one. Regardless, if it’s not innate for us, I say we try, because of the incredible value it brings to us, our team, our organization, and life in general.
Just my humble opinion.
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