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Why Humility Is So Powerful in Our Work

In many discussions and leadership best practices, humility shows up in the top 10 skills that are needed for a high-performance workplace. But if you’re humble, does that mean you’re not confident? Or competent? Or leadership material?

The short answer (and the long answer) is no. If you want to succeed, to build strong customer relationships, to build strong teams, or grow your business, then a humble approach can help you to do that.

What do we mean by humility?

The dictionary definition of humility is having the quality of being humble or having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance; meekness, lowliness.
In business, I don’t think anyone wants to emphasize meekness or lowliness, but a modest estimate of one’s own importance or knowledge fits. Additionally, I think humility as it relates to curiosity and open mindedness is key to career development.

The fundamental attitude of humble and successful people in business is that they know they don’t know everything there is to know. As one entrepreneur put it, “I can’t know everything, and I don’t know everything.” Or, in the words of the late Charlie Munger, “Knowing what you don't know is more useful than being brilliant.”

Where being humble can make a big difference

Customer intimacy

Customer intimacy is built on strong relationships, and humility is a significant trait in people who are relationship builders. If you bring a humble approach to listening and observing customers, they will be more comfortable about sharing what truly matters to them and be more likely to engage with you.

When it comes to customer observation specifically, staying humble can help you to avoid the pitfalls that might get in the way of true insight – like assumptions (about what drives customers, about what they want or need to do, about what their pain points are) and biases.

When your default is an open mind, with an understanding that you don’t have all of the answers, you’re in the right frame of mind to get the most out of customer observation.

Decision making, problem solving, and innovation

Companies that have hardened processes and strict playbooks operate on a very centralized decision-making model with a top-down organizational culture. In this kind of culture, there is tremendous pressure for people to comply with the “one way” to do things, and for leaders to think/act as if they already know the answers.

This can be successful, but potentially at the cost of missed opportunities. Companies and leaders that embrace humility are more open to evaluating changing dynamics, they have a better chance of knowing when to pivot and they will be willing to make some hard decisions based on input from multiple sources.

In other words, they can potentially stay ahead of their competition because they will hear the stuff that’s hard to hear, as Jason Hennessey puts it. Being humble helps him to avoid “ego-driven dead ends” by nurturing a “spirit of continuous improvement.”

Podcast host Shawn Campbell calls it a “problem-solving mindset.” People with this mindset don’t stay fixated on their own ideas or solutions, so they are prepared to explore more options and get input from a variety of sources.

Humility is closely connected to emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligent people are effective communicators, good listeners, good at conflict management, and good at navigating team dynamics. With this foundation, teams will be more open to diverse perspectives, leading to better collective problem-solving skills. They are more likely to build diverse teams in response to a problem or challenge, which again increases their ability to get to good solutions.

Employee attrition/retention

High employee attrition often correlates with low morale and low engagement. Research indicates that in many cases, it’s the management team and/or the management style of a person’s immediate supervisor that has the biggest impact on employee attrition.

Management teams that are low on humility are also often low on empathy and out of touch with employees. A conscious effort to foster and demonstrate humble leadership can be a catalyst to change the manager-employee dynamic and to boost retention rates. Humble leaders are also more likely to nurture autonomy in their teams, which is another key factor that has a positive impact on employee retention.


Learning from mistakes or unexpected outcomes is a critical part of performance improvement, and a fundamental benefit of experimentation is that there is insight to be gained even if an experiment “fails.” However, we are socialized to avoid mistakes, and as tech workers, we are socialized to move to solution very quickly (sometimes before we fully understand what the problem is).

Humble professionals know that persevering and practice will lead to better. People who learn from errors and trying things out are building up their resilience as a core competency. They tend to be more creative, better able to perform in volatile work environments, and are more likely to take a humble/open approach to building relationships and problem solving, says Christoph Seckler, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurial Strategy at ESCP Business School.

Research indicates that people who learn from mistakes effectively have a common characteristic: humility – demonstrated in their willingness to view themselves accurately, their appreciation of other people’s strengths and contributions, and their teachability.

Research also shows that humility correlates to willingness to learn and adapt. Personal and organizational agility are good health indicators over the long term against rapid change and complex business challenges. Humble learners can really get the most out of sharing best practices and learning experiences (good and bad) with transparency, which is why we value lifelong learners within Volaris Group.

To get there, organizations need to:

  1. Embrace humility as a desired trait and acknowledge people who demonstrate humble behaviors.
  2. Establish cultural norms that favor humble behaviors. Acknowledge people who actively seek feedback, even in a critical situation, when they acknowledge the strengths of others.
  3. Support organizational curiosity. Create programs, supports, and opportunities for people who are eager to learn new things.
  4. Make it easy for people to see their performance clearly. One way of doing so is to provide feedback that is verifiable, predictable, and controllable.
  5. Include learning from failures, pivots, and redirects in the organizational definition of what a “performer” is.

Collaboration, learning, curiosity, and relationship-building are hallmarks of organizations that value humility. People with a humble approach to their work are the kind of people who will build productive relationships with customers, bring a natural curiosity to work, and they are primed to be great leaders.

This doesn’t mean you can’t be confident. The best kind of confidence is knowing your own measure – your abilities, strengths, and skills – while still knowing there’s more to learn and more to hear.

It’s pretty powerful.

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About the Author

As VP, Corporate Knowledge at Volaris Group, Sherry works closely with all of our organizations to capture & share best practices through peer programs, special sessions, portals, and communities. She also oversees Volaris Group platforms, technologies, and strategies that support our collaborative culture.

Profile Photo of Sherry McMenemy