April 20, 2021

Humble Hiring: The Importance of Recruiting Candidates With Humility

If you ask supervisors what makes a good employee, a predictable list will emerge: reliability, teamwork, problem-solving, and the like.

There’s one character trait that likely won’t make the list, but it should: humility.

Despite being deeply undervalued in the workforce, humility is a trait shared by nearly all of the most valuable employees. Some conceive of humility as self-deprecation, but that’s an erroneous understanding. That is false humility.

In truth, humility is freedom from arrogance. It’s a state of being unencumbered by the ego, which can lead you astray. To quote the writer Rick Warren, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” It’s not a lack of regard for yourself, but a respect for others.

In fact, the individual who is always down on themselves, decrying how worthless they are, isn’t humble: They draw a lot of attention to themselves. The truly humble person won’t do that. Their attention will be directed outward (toward others) and forward (toward the situation at hand). Such a trait is invaluable in the workplace.

Humility gets down to work. It’s the attitude exhibited by former Uruguayan President José Mujica. Mujica declined to live in the presidential palace, opting instead for a farm owned by his wife, Lucía Topolansky. Mujica donated 90 percent of his salary to charity and drove a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle. Mujica didn’t become president to feed his own ego or live a life of opulence; he did it to serve his country. He led in a way that bettered the lives of others.

Why Humble Employees Make Your Company Stronger

The Wall Street Journal reports that humility is linked to lower turnover and absenteeism. That is just the beginning of why humble professionals make excellent employees. Here are four ways humility will make your organization stronger:

1. Humility Makes Teams Healthy

Humility is vital for collaboration. If you want to get things done, you need to be able — and willing — to see things from someone else’s perspective. Humility takes the vantage points of others seriously. This is why Abraham Lincoln filled his cabinet with his political rivals: He knew he could learn from them.

2. Humility Strengthens Outcomes

Humble people value the contributions of others. This allows them to integrate multiple viewpoints and suggestions to yield a better product. Humble individuals hear great ideas because they don’t assume their way is the only — or the best — way. Humble employees aren’t afraid to admit mistakes and correct course. This yields stronger outcomes for their employers.

3. Humility Seeks the Common Good

Humble employees think beyond themselves. If you want to achieve positive outcomes, you have to be open to doing tasks for the good of the team. Humble people are secure enough not to worry that a task is beneath them. They simply do what needs to be done. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte made waves when he mopped up his own coffee spill. He didn’t see it as a job for the custodial staff: He made the mess, so he cleaned it up.

4. Humility Improves Performance

Humble professionals realize they have weaknesses. They look for ways to strengthen their performance and processes. Humility opens employees up to others’ feedback and new practices as they develop professionally. A humble employee does not see admitting mistakes, asking for help, or seeking new training as signs of weakness. They see these things as opportunities for themselves — and the organization — to grow.

Humility is a positive trait with far-reaching effects on any institution. We have all worked for a supervisor who took credit for our ideas and didn’t appreciate our effort. Did you want to give your best effort for that manager? If they were egotistical enough, they might have even made you second-guess staying at the organization at all.

Unchecked arrogance is toxic and alienates good employees. Contrast this with humility. A humble leader takes responsibility when they should and offers praise to others when it’s due. They take seriously the perspectives of others and value their contributions. They are not worried about their own reputations — they are focused on the well-being of their teams and the success of their missions. That is the kind of leader you want at the helm of your organization and every level of the corporate ladder. Savvy organizations pay attention to humility in the hiring process, and they make a practice of cultivating and rewarding humility in their employees.

Lastly, when it’s time to move on, a humble employee will train their replacement to be even better than themselves. They are not worried about a threat to their own legacy; they are thinking only of the health of the team and the success of the organization.

Cheryl Hyatt is a founding partner at Hyatt-Fennell Executive Search.

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With more than 20 years of executive-search consulting experience, Cheryl Hyatt has been responsible for successfully recruiting senior administrative professionals for educational and nonprofit organizations. Before partnering with Dr. Fennell, Cheryl was president and owner of The Charitable Resources Group, where she provided both executive search services and fundraising consulting to the clients she served. Cheryl brings more than 30 years of management and organizational leadership experience to her role with clients. Her breadth of experience, knowledge, and contacts makes her sought-after professionally in her field. Cheryl has written articles and presented to various nonprofit groups. She sits on various local nonprofit boards, offering a variety of expertise to each organization. Hyatt-Fennell brings more than 60 years of combined, highly successful executive search expertise to its clients, a reputation for achieving results on the national and international level, and the ability to place top executives with higher educational institutions nationwide. The executive search firms of Gallagher~Fennell Higher Education Services and The Charitable Resources Group merged in 2010 to formalize their partnership and create Hyatt-Fennell Executive Search.