At The Right Five and The Pathfinder Company, we know that it’s a balancing act between showing confidence and having practical humility. This is especially true when talking to bosses, funders, or potential clients.
Like an attorney, you often have to put your best face forward. That doesn’t mean ignoring challenges or problems with products—or your own skill set—it just means your job is to put your strengths in the most positive light. You honestly have to believe that you, your product, or your idea is valid and the right fit, otherwise you are wasting everyone’s time—including your own.
A UK football manager (soccer for those of us in the US) recently said,
“I talk to people sometimes about humility being the seed of growth. I think you have to know that you have to get better, you have to know that your vulnerabilities are there, you aren’t the finished article, none of them are the finished article, they all have to keep working.”
That’s what we call practical humility. Even if you are a professional athlete, you still have room to improve. There is a famous story about Michael Jordan, one of the best basketball players of all time. After every game, he would watch game tapes. The best in the world at what he did was always looking for ways to get better—knowing that he wasn’t finished improving.
Having practical humility, especially in this age of endless self-promotion, seems counter-intuitive (and reminds us of the 1980 hit by Mac Davis, It’s Hard to Be Humble). Researchers have shown (here, here, here) humility – the ability to acknowledge our limitations and learn from others – has proven to be a formidable leadership quality. Unlike its flashier counterparts, humility does not diminish one’s strengths or accomplishments; instead, it lends them depth and relatability.
Here’s how you can develop and leverage this virtue for personal growth and business success.
First: practice self-awareness. Being aware of your strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement is a critical step toward humility. Regularly taking stock of your actions and their impacts can help you understand where you need to be more humble. Seek feedback from colleagues, subordinates, and superiors to gain a comprehensive picture of your performance. A 360-degree review is usually helpful but not necessary. Understand that everyone, regardless of their position, has something to teach you.
Second: display genuine empathy. Empathy is the bedrock of humility – it’s about recognizing others’ perspectives and experiences. By actively listening to your colleagues and clients, you signal respect and openness, encouraging a culture of sharing and collaboration. Empathy not only facilitates effective communication but it also fosters mutual respect and understanding.
Next, acknowledge your mistakes. The mark of a humble leader is the readiness to admit errors and the willingness to rectify them. Admitting fault can be uncomfortable, but it’s a powerful way of showing your humanity and openness to learning. Additionally, it engenders trust and encourages a culture of accountability within your team.
It is also critical to celebrate the success of others. Recognizing and appreciating the contributions of your colleagues and team members demonstrates humility. It fosters a supportive and collaborative environment where everyone’s contributions are valued. By highlighting the achievements of others, you show that your focus is on collective success rather than individual glory.
Lastly, practice gratitude. Being grateful for the opportunities, support, and achievements in your life can foster a humble outlook. It encourages a perspective that appreciates the efforts and contributions of others and reduces the egoistic focus on oneself.
Through our proprietary qualitative and quantitative research, we have found that practical humility is one of the key aspects of The Pathfinder.
Pathfinders are individuals who, when faced with challenges and opportunities, do not accept the status quo. Rather, they innovate and find a new way. They create a path that benefits not just their own journey, but all others that follow.
Pathfinders have proven to be most likely to succeed as the first salesperson in a startup. Larger businesses want Pathfinders for specific roles such as when looking to break into a new market, or developing a new approach to customer service, etc. Self-managing companies tend to be made up entirely of Pathfinders.
After years of empirical research, The Right Five has identified the unique set of deep skills that make a Pathfinder and we have developed an assessment to enable the identification of Pathfinders.
Want to find your organization’s or team’s Pathfinders? Looking to hire Pathfinders? Organisations can sign up for our private beta here via the left hand sidebar, individuals can take the assessment directly.