Over the last 20 years, a new breed of celebrity-status entrepreneurs has come to the fore. Names like Mark Cuban, Arianna Huffington, Gary Vaynerchuk and especially Steve Jobs have all built a reputation for their brash and authoritative leading styles.
In a world that celebrates such outspoken leadership, what role could humility possibly play in your success?
Turns out: It’s absolutely essential. In fact, for many, humility is the missing ingredient -- and not for the reasons you might expect.
As Entrepreneur recently pointed out, a study conducted by the University of Washington Foster School of Business found that “humble people tend to make the most effective leaders and are more likely to be high performers in both individual and team settings.”
That’s a powerful claim, so what is humility?
Humility is often mistaken for low self-esteem.
In reality, humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking less about yourself. Genuine humility is a study in perceptiveness, self-awareness and kindness and makes people more candid, compassionate and charitable. Humble leaders are honest about both their strengths and limitations. They are confident without being conceited; open-minded without being obstinate; and supportive without being submissive.
As the great Jim Collins said, “The X-factor of great leadership is not personality, it is humility.”
But what does humility do?
Here are three essentials of humility in action, each of which applies directly to your effectiveness as a leader and entrepreneur.
Listening lies at the heart of all successful relationships. It indicates that you’re receptive to and respectful towards the opinions of others.
Humble entrepreneurs actively solicit feedback from their customers, colleagues, and community. Doing so boosts employee morale, betters your products and offers and develops customer loyalty.
Active listening works best in face-to-face conversations, but there are a number of digital listening practices that can dramatically improve your humility quotient.
For example, social media makes it easy to “overhear” the conversations swirling around your brand and products. Real-time B2B social media listening tools like Oktopost offer unvarnished insight into the impact of your company, along with important information about industry trends, influencers and competitors.
Also essential to humble listening, as Peter Cohan put it in " Five Ways to Reach Entrepreneurial Humility," is developing a “360 degree review.” Why? Because total-picture access makes you aware of the good news along with the bad. Quantitative data, in particular, is key.
This means understanding and using industry standard tools like Google Analytics for yourself. Even better are all-in-one dashboards that combine online analytics with offline metrics. For larger businesses in particular, customizable tools like Cyfe pull together data on revenue, sales funnels, onsite engagement, social media, email performance and project management in one place.
Humility never assumes it’s right. Humble leaders, while heeding their instincts, are willing to test their assumptions.
Testing doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. One of the easiest way to start testing -- no matter what your size -- is email. Whether you’re focused on external marketing or internal memos, testing crucial elements of your email -- namely, the subject line, from field, time of day, day of the week and the content itself -- gives you genuine insight into what’s working -- and what’s not.
If this kind of testing is new to you, you could start off with some simple and resourceful email split tests. “The goal,” as Joanna Lord, VP of Marketing at Porch stresses, “is to test into what gets people to stop and say ‘tell me more.’”
To err is human. To admit that you erred is humility.
As leaders, we often regard admitting mistakes as a sign of weakness. In truth, it’s an admirable act of grace, generosity and gumption.
Accepting that you did something wrong or that you don’t know everything, foregoes ego for the sake of personal development and business growth. Asking for help not only displays a willingness to learn but empowers others to shine. Moreover, it builds trust. Acknowledging a slipup today prevents it from swelling into an insurmountable challenge tomorrow.
The next time you stumble, own it; your honesty will be rewarded.
Humility isn’t the most glamorous trait of success, but it is absolutely essential. Thankfully, the business world is waking up to the power and potential of humility.