Humility • Prof. Brad Owens
Episode 1212th July 2021 • How to Help • Aaron Miller
00:00:00 00:50:36

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Summary

If you want to improve yourself and could choose only one trait to begin, you should start with humility. It's called the "mother of all virtues" because it opens the door to all kinds of personal development. But humility is also sorely misunderstood. It isn't just an internal attitude about ourselves, but an outward set of behaviors that people can observe. It's also essential to effective leadership.

This episode, we'll be taught by humility expert, Prof. Brad Owens. He's done award-winning research on humility in leaders and has shown that leadership humility is key to getting better engagement, more creativity, and higher functioning teams. Prof. Owens will teach us about the specific ingredients of humility that you can practice and encourage in others.

About Our Guest

Brad Owens (PhD, University of Washington) is a Professor of Business Ethics in the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University. His research has been published in the Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, Organization Science, Personnel Psychology, Leadership Quarterly, Journal of Management, Journal of Business Ethics, and Public Administration Review. Under the general umbrella of Positive Organizational Scholarship, his research focuses on the impact of leader humility on individuals and teams, ethical leadership, and relational energy. Brad's teaching interests include business ethics, organizational behavior, and leadership.

Useful Links

Prof. Owens' Bio Page

"Motivation to Lead: A Meta-Analysis and Distal-Proximal Model of Motivation and Leadership.", Journal of Applied Psychology, Volume 105, Pages 331-354, 2020

"How Does Leader Humility Influence Team Performance? Exploring the Mechanisms of Contagion and Collective Promotion Focus", Academy of Management Journal, Volume 59, Pages 1088-1111, 2016

"Initiating and Utilizing Shared Leadership in Teams: The Role of Leader Humility, Team Proactive Personality, and Team Performance Capability", Journal of Applied Psychology, Volume 120, 2016

Kant and the Ethics of Humility Jeanine Greenberg argues that we can indeed speak of Aristotelian-style, but still deeply Kantian, virtuous character traits. She proposes moving from focus on action to focus on a person, not leaving the former behind but instead taking it up within a larger, more satisfying Kantian moral theory. 

Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society is a book based on why learning is important to creativity and leading.

Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America's Greatest Virtue

In the Heart of the World Mother Teresa shares principles of selflessness, forgiveness, compassion, and spiritual Strength.

About Merit Leadership

To learn more about how you can develop ethical skills that turn peril into opportunity, visit http://meritleadership.com

Pleasant Pictures Music

Join the Pleasant Pictures Music Club to get unlimited access to high-quality, royalty-free music for all of your projects. Use the discount code HOWTOHELP15 for 15% off your first year.

Transcripts

Aaron:

I really wish I was an audio engineer, had an audio engineer because

Aaron:

I feel like, I feel like I'm making a bunch of mistakes and don't know it.

Aaron:

As long as it's good enough, I guess.

Brad:

Yeah.

Brad:

I think there's a lot of satisficing we all have to do and we're trying to do

Brad:

something new, so I'm sure it's great.

Aaron:

Hi.

Aaron:

I'm Aaron Miller, and this is How to Help, a podcast about having a life and

Aaron:

career of meaning, virtue, and impact.

Aaron:

This is season one, episode 12, Humility, How to Help is sponsored

Aaron:

by Merit Leadership, home of The Business Ethics Field Guide.

Aaron:

Well, we've come to the last episode of the season.

Aaron:

And while I won't say that I've saved the best for last, because I

Aaron:

mean, had he pick a favorite child, let alone a favorite conversation

Aaron:

with all of these wonderful people.

Aaron:

This episode today is especially, well, everything.

Aaron:

Let me explain what I mean, as you've been listening this season, you

Aaron:

might've found yourself recognizing some areas needing self-improvement.

Aaron:

Maybe the episode with Melissa Sevy made you want to develop more resilience.

Aaron:

Or the episode with Tyler Schultz inspired you to have more courage.

Aaron:

Personally, I've been reflecting on the conversations with David Williams about

Aaron:

hope and Andrew Maxfield about creativity.

Aaron:

So with that in mind, or with whatever attribute you're hoping to improve

Aaron:

this episode may be just the thing.

Aaron:

To show you what I mean, I want you to try the following.

Aaron:

Imagine sitting down with the person closest to you

Aaron:

and asking just one question.

Aaron:

And after you've asked this question, you're not allowed to talk other than to

Aaron:

get clarification, keep a notepad handy because you're probably going to need it.

Aaron:

Are you ready for the question?

Aaron:

Here it is.

Aaron:

Ask the person closest to you.

Aaron:

How can I improve?

Aaron:

I've done this before with my wife.

Aaron:

And I can tell you that it was both enlightening and

Aaron:

no surprise, excruciating.

Aaron:

My instinct was to resist, rationalize, and otherwise find a way to make

Aaron:

myself feel better rather than to really listen to what she had to say.

Aaron:

There are a lot of reasons that such an exercise is so hard for us, but the

Aaron:

antidote to this isn't just to avoid asking, even if we don't want to know, the

Aaron:

world has a way of showing us our faults.

Aaron:

As James Berry who created a Peter Pan once said, life is

Aaron:

a long lesson in humility and there's the antidote is humility.

Aaron:

Uh, typically misunderstood virtue to get humility right, we're going

Aaron:

to turn to one of the world's leading researchers in humility.

Aaron:

My friend Brad Owens, who teaches with me here at Brigham young university, his

Aaron:

work on leadership humility has been cited thousands of times by other scholars.

Aaron:

He and his collaborators found a way to define and measure humility in a way that

Aaron:

is both insightful and incredibly useful.

Aaron:

As I like to do, I want to begin with how professor Owens found

Aaron:

his way into studying humility.

Brad:

You know, I have gotten this question quite a bit and I wish

Brad:

there was a really salient reason.

Brad:

Like my supper limitive in the yearbook in high school was most arrogant or

Brad:

something and kind of irony was I needed to study this to figure, figure this out.

Brad:

But I, I do know that.

Brad:

There have been moments when I have noticed individuals that I

Brad:

thought were very interesting and had experienced a lot, and even in

Brad:

some cases were very successful, but they also had this humility about

Brad:

them and it was disarming in a way.

Brad:

And I sense that there was kind of a level of wholeness to them.

Brad:

And I've just always admired those individuals and felt like

Brad:

they made an impression on me.

Brad:

And so I kind of wanted to figure that out.

Brad:

Like, why are these individuals having this impact, at least on

Brad:

me personally, and seemed to have such a positive impact on others.

Aaron:

I would wager that there's someone in your life that comes

Aaron:

to mind right now, someone whose accomplishments you admire, but whose

Aaron:

humility makes them truly special.

Aaron:

Maybe it's a parent, or a friend, or a boss keep them in mind throughout

Aaron:

this interview because it will help you think more deeply about Brad's research.

Brad:

I think that's the part of it where my interest came from.

Brad:

And certainly.

Brad:

I feel like I, I have had moments in, in the past where I felt like I didn't

Brad:

behave in a way that reflected humility and I've always regretted those moments.

Brad:

And so.

Brad:

Maybe there's kind of a self journey, a narrative in here as well, like figuring

Brad:

out what, why did I resort to that kind of mode of behavior that seemed in retrospect

Brad:

to be kind of arrogant and, try and kind of figure out what drives us to behave

Brad:

humbly.

Brad:

In my doctoral program, I also read, positive psychology articles and,

Brad:

and they talked about how humility is lagged behind the other character,

Brad:

strengths, and virtues that have been.

Brad:

Studied and in part it's because measurement has been such an issue.

Aaron:

Yeah.

Aaron:

Let's talk about that idea of measurement.

Aaron:

That was actually the next question I have in my list, because it seems like

Aaron:

that would be a really hard thing to do.

Aaron:

How did you come to discover a way to measure humility effectively and reliably?

Brad:

Yeah.

Brad:

So the psychologist that I was reading about who were kind of positive

Brad:

psychology, Pioneers talking about their efforts to study humility and

Brad:

attempts to use a self-report measure.

Brad:

It was difficult to interpret someone who rates themselves highly on humility.

Brad:

Self-report humility from the get-go.

Brad:

It was a problem just due to the nature of the construct of humility by someone who

Brad:

rates themselves as exceptionally humble.

Brad:

Is that a sign that they are not humble at all, or are there some

Brad:

who are very self-aware and truly authentically humble and they know it.

Brad:

And then others that think they are, since I'm hoping to study humility in

Brad:

leadership as a doctoral student, I thought since leadership is influence

Brad:

after all, then it's the perception of humility that really matters.

Brad:

And so developing a behavioral based measure of humility that other people can

Brad:

observe in others became the strategy.

Brad:

The initial studies have both self-report and other report measures.

Brad:

I used both in trying to predict important outcomes and found that

Brad:

self-report humility predicts nothing.

Aaron:

I guess it shouldn't surprise us that asking people how humble they are.

Aaron:

Doesn't really tell us much, but it's really interesting than asking other

Aaron:

people to rate our humility does work.

Aaron:

And the reason it works is because humility, isn't just an

Aaron:

internal attitude about ourselves.

Aaron:

It's an outward set of behaviors that people can observe.

Aaron:

In fact, we're always observing this kind of thing and others, and we have

Aaron:

a complicated relationship with it.

Aaron:

On the one hand, we really value people that express high levels of confidence,

Aaron:

like the mechanic who insures us, that they know how to fix the weird noise

Aaron:

is making, but we also like humility, especially from successful people.

Aaron:

Think of the whole idea of an Oscar speech, the person holding that statuette.

Aaron:

Isn't there to talk about how great they are.

Aaron:

If they did, it would be a disaster.

Aaron:

When and in what situations do we actually prefer people being humble?

Aaron:

It seems like culturally is especially here in the United States, but with

Aaron:

Western cultures, generally, we have a preference for bravado, right?

Aaron:

The people that express high degrees of confidence, but we also seem to want

Aaron:

people to be humble at the same time.

Aaron:

That feels like a weird tension.

Brad:

Hmm.

Aaron:

What do you think explains it and how do we make sense of that?

Brad:

Yeah, I think that, that is a great question, Aaron.

Brad:

I, I think with regard to leadership, or there are some scholars who have

Brad:

examined what they call implicit theories of leadership that we all have this

Brad:

idea of what makes a good leader inside of us is kind of an implicit theory.

Brad:

And they're actually not simplistic.

Brad:

They're often pretty complex.

Brad:

And maybe, I don't know if bravado is the word that I would necessarily use,

Brad:

but I have read some social sciences said, our initial evaluations of people,

Brad:

before anything else, kind of these global evaluations are, is this person

Brad:

competent and is this person warm?

Aaron:

Jumping back in here with a comment?

Aaron:

I think it's fascinating that we first look for competence and warmth.

Aaron:

Often I find myself worried a lot more about appearing competence.

Aaron:

When I meet new people, will they think I deserve their attention?

Aaron:

When I worry too much about how I appear,

Aaron:

sadly that's when warmth goes out the window.

Aaron:

A good piece of advice.

Aaron:

I try to use more and more is to spend my time with a new person,

Aaron:

mostly asking questions about them.

Aaron:

It helps me remember the importance of being warm.

Aaron:

And funny enough, I found that people are willing to assume that I'm competent.

Aaron:

If I'm showing genuine interest in them.

Brad:

And so those are the two things that people immediately

Brad:

try to assess about kind of a new person that you're interacting with.

Brad:

And usually warmth is actually desired first, but then they also want to know

Brad:

whether or not this person can add value, whether their perspective has credibility.

Brad:

And so it seems like there's just a fundamental way that

Brad:

we have evaluating people.

Aaron:

So does that ever come to mind as you're meeting somebody new?

Aaron:

Do you ever find yourself thinking deliberately?

Aaron:

Okay.

Aaron:

How do I convey competence and warmth in this interaction?

Brad:

I think I just default, how do I not convey awkwardness is

Brad:

kind of the way I think about new interactions that I'm not always

Brad:

very successful about avoiding that.

Aaron:

You're going to see throughout the interview.

Aaron:

Just how humble Brad is.

Aaron:

Truth be told.

Aaron:

I suspect that he's always been this way.

Aaron:

Now for us to get humility, right?

Aaron:

We need to understand where we have it.

Aaron:

Wrong.

Aaron:

Humility is a woefully misunderstood attribute.

Aaron:

I asked Brad to explain what the most common misconceptions are.

Brad:

I think one of the biggest ones is.

Brad:

That they think humility means this an underestimation of one's

Brad:

abilities and of one's value or reflects this sense of loneliness.

Brad:

And it's true that there are dictionary definitions that reflect that idea

Brad:

about humility, a scholar that I really like her name is Janine

Brad:

Grenberg and she wrote a book called Kant and the Ethics of Humility.

Brad:

And in that she talks about the dividing line of the boundary between virtuous

Brad:

humility and weakness based humility.

Brad:

And basically her main point is that in order for someone to have

Brad:

true, you know, strengths-based constructive humility, it has to be

Brad:

founded on a, a correct, or accurate sense of one's worth dignity value.

Brad:

And they can't, it can't be a sense of self that is either

Brad:

artificially inflated or compressed.

Brad:

I think the biggest misconception of humility is people wonder whether or not

Brad:

it could possibly have any utility or practical value because they're assuming

Brad:

humility just means to be soft-spoken and kind of spineless, and only too

Brad:

quick to yield to the wishes of others.

Aaron:

I think my favorite part of Brad's research is the way it

Aaron:

redeems the value of humility.

Aaron:

It's more than just a kind of social pillow softening our hard edges.

Aaron:

The current wave of humility research shows that it has measurable

Aaron:

benefits, including at work.

Aaron:

Humble leaders, for example, usually get better outcomes.

Aaron:

It works this way because humility helps leaders to recognize their weaknesses

Aaron:

in a way that becomes empowering.

Aaron:

As Brad started looking into the effect of humble leaders, this

Aaron:

was one of the early key insights.

Brad:

The one that surprised me the most was when we were interviewing

Brad:

leaders of mortgage banks in Seattle, right after the housing crisis.

Brad:

And them talking about the sense of liberation that occurred when they

Brad:

realized that they didn't have to be all things to all people that instead they

Brad:

could show humility, show humanness, and acknowledge when they didn't know things.

Brad:

And in that kind of tumultuous time in their industry, that was especially

Brad:

useful for the leaders who already had established their leadership based on

Brad:

a measure of humility, versus those that had tried to be kind of omniscient

Brad:

in a way, or have this impervious kind of perfect persona as a leader.

Brad:

Those are the individuals that struggled in crisis more than those

Brad:

who already had opened up their, their own process of development.

Brad:

It legitimized growing legitimize, making mistakes once in a while.

Brad:

And, and legitimize, uncertainty,

Aaron:

humility works in leadership because we like following humble leaders,

Aaron:

but there's more to it than that.

Aaron:

According to Brad's research, humility and leaders also relieves a heavy

Aaron:

burden on the entire organization.

Brad:

Leaders who show humility, produce a lot of psychological

Brad:

benefits to their followers.

Brad:

One of them is, is relief from evaluation apprehension rather than appearing

Brad:

competent to the boss and never admitting a mistake because that's what

Brad:

they think the boss wants the boss.

Brad:

Who's willing to show humility instead, kind of validates the

Brad:

employees development and so this in turn leads to higher productivity,

Brad:

they're more likely to stay.

Brad:

They're just happier, they're more engaged, more satisfied, more creative.

Brad:

We have many more documented workplace benefits of humility, but there's

Brad:

also these interpersonal ones.

Brad:

Those who embrace humility, just seem to have this sense of wholeness

Brad:

about them and liberation from things that are taxing with regard to trying

Brad:

to maintain an inflated persona.

Aaron:

The list of benefits that come from humble leaders goes on and on.

Aaron:

For example, humble leaders can last longer employees work

Aaron:

better in a range of ways.

Aaron:

It seems like the case for humility is all upside.

Aaron:

So are there any trade-offs are there any ways that humility imposes a cost?

Brad:

In the short run, it seems we have research that shows that narcissists in

Brad:

the short run seem much more impressive than people who are humble and narcissists

Brad:

tend to be selected for leadership.

Brad:

Their ideas are taken more seriously.

Aaron:

By the way, here, he's not talking about the extreme kind of narcissism

Aaron:

that comes with a mental illness, but rather just general arrogance.

Brad:

In the short term, those individuals tend to have some advantages and

Brad:

there may even be some organizational contexts where that's the kind of

Brad:

person that is promoted and wanted.

Brad:

At least that's what they think they want.

Brad:

But often what happens is over time, the true colors come out, individuals

Brad:

who initially felt great confidence in the narcissistic person doesn't feel

Brad:

like they can trust them all that much.

Brad:

And senses that they're not motivated out of the interest of the group

Brad:

could benefit the group as a whole.

Brad:

So as long-term we have some anecdotal and I think some empirical evidence

Brad:

that shows that humility leads to some advantages over the narcissist.

Brad:

It tends to accrue over time.

Brad:

They tend to build trust with others because they deliver on what they

Brad:

promise they own and learn from their mistakes and thus their rate of

Brad:

development and the value they add to an organization just grows faster over time.

Aaron:

This insight, by the way, was part of a very cool study using real historical

Aaron:

sales data in the car industry, where teams had to make strategic decisions.

Aaron:

The study pitted these teams against each other.

Aaron:

Dr.

Aaron:

Owens and his coauthors measured the perceived humility of each team

Aaron:

before they began at the beginning humble teams started off doing

Aaron:

average or even slightly worse.

Brad:

But over time they learned from their mistakes.

Brad:

We found that by the end, the humble teams, the stock value was

Brad:

higher than, than all the others.

Brad:

Their rate of stock growth, they hit this inflection point where they just

Brad:

started to make the right decisions.

Brad:

Like almost every week, they were just making better decisions

Brad:

than the other teams and it was translating into bottom line impact.

Brad:

And so the benefits of humility may not be impressive initially,

Brad:

but they unfold over time.

Brad:

They accumulate and kind of crescendo into not just soft outcomes, but

Brad:

really hard bottom line outcomes.

Aaron:

So hopefully this has persuaded you to take humility more seriously.

Aaron:

Or even better to try and be more humble if that's your

Aaron:

intention, where do you start?

Aaron:

What are the practices of a humble person,

Brad:

Part of the purpose of interviewing those mortgage banking

Brad:

leaders in Seattle for my dissertation was to ask them to describe in kind

Brad:

of clinical, behavioral detail.

Brad:

What does a humble leader do?

Brad:

What does it look like?

Brad:

And from those statements as well as looking at the literature about humility,

Brad:

settling in on, on three core dimensions.

Brad:

And so humility entails individuals seeing themselves more accurately.

Brad:

New information, more openly and other people more appreciatively.

Brad:

And so there's a self-awareness component, a teachability component,

Brad:

and then an appreciation of others component of humility.

Aaron:

To say those one more time.

Aaron:

Humble behavior means self-awareness, teachability, and appreciation of others.

Aaron:

I really love how simple this formula is.

Aaron:

What I especially love is this means humility is something that

Aaron:

can be practiced and improved.

Brad:

I really liked the way the Aristotle, um, described.

Brad:

Per choose that they're more like moral muscles that we can choose

Brad:

to develop, to try and kind of habituate into our characters.

Brad:

Otherwise, they're, they're not really moral victories.

Brad:

If we have no choice in whether or not we embrace them and practice them.

Brad:

So I personally believe that it is something that people can

Brad:

develop, practice, and grow.

Brad:

I was interviewing a president of a hospital in Seattle and I asked him

Brad:

a question that's similar to this.

Brad:

And he said, I have interacted with people who I would say are ones

Brad:

and twos on humility and those who are eight to nine and humility.

Brad:

And he said, I think that you could probably train and coax a one or

Brad:

a two to become a four or a five, but I don't think you could get

Brad:

them to be a nine or an eight.

Brad:

So I do think that the individuals can grow in humility.

Brad:

In fact, one mortgage banking leader said that early in his career, he

Brad:

worked with the most arrogant person imaginable and he was claiming

Brad:

all of their ideas as his own.

Brad:

Berating others all the time, not aware at all of his own foibles and mistakes.

Brad:

And then he had a couple huge reversals in life.

Brad:

One of the most professional and other one was I think, health

Brad:

and the guy totally did a 180.

Brad:

With regard to humility and completely changed.

Brad:

And he said that he instead became an extremely humble person and

Brad:

it took him a while to trust it.

Brad:

But he said that he witnessed this transformation that occurred.

Brad:

It is a characteristic that seems malleable.

Brad:

And so we've tried to teach executives and other leaders about humility.

Brad:

We've run them through exercises.

Brad:

We've gotten good feedback that it was short-term feedback

Brad:

about the effects of this.

Brad:

It seems to resonate deeply people when they understand what humility really is,

Brad:

feel like they need more of it usually.

Brad:

And they see that is valuable.

Brad:

I believe that when someone takes opportunity to engage in

Brad:

introspection to be internally self-aware that can be very valuable.

Brad:

And that's the first dimension of humility is self-awareness.

Brad:

But also getting feedback from outsiders, just this practice of taking advantage

Brad:

when there's a feedback opportunity.

Brad:

I think that those things can really help an individual also to

Brad:

embrace the behaviors of humility, which then in turn can be kind of

Brad:

become more natural, less forced.

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Aaron:

This point you might be asking a question that naturally appears

Aaron:

when you talk about humility as a behavior, rather than an action.

Aaron:

Butte is this even real humility.

Aaron:

I mean, if their thoughts and intentions don't actually change.

Aaron:

Are they really being humble or just putting on a show.

Aaron:

In other words, can someone fake humility in the way that we've

Aaron:

been talking about it here?

Aaron:

Well, the first point to make is that they would probably need to

Aaron:

fake it for a long time for the people around them to believe it.

Aaron:

And they would have to be reasonably consistent in showing humble behavior

Aaron:

while hiding their true nature.

Aaron:

If they can do that, then maybe the answer is that it doesn't matter if

Aaron:

they're truly humble in their heart.

Brad:

We have had some review teams and others pushback with our measure

Brad:

of humility and say, well, couldn't a very arrogant narcissistic person

Brad:

see the social benefits of humility and just enact these

Brad:

behaviors in authentically when they're not truly humble within.

Brad:

And I can see that that's possible, but the way that we

Brad:

measure humility is usually by the consensus of three to 10 employees.

Brad:

And in many cases, the average time these employees have worked under a leader

Brad:

has been for over a year or two years.

Brad:

And so they're observing this leader up close every day for two years and seeing

Brad:

this consistency and humble behavior.

Brad:

And so.

Brad:

I think that there's something to be said about authenticity of humility.

Brad:

That's so consistent and, and enacted over time.

Aaron:

Consistency is tough for all kinds of behavior.

Aaron:

And sometimes being humble is hard.

Aaron:

What gets in the way of us developing more humility.

Brad:

We are deeply motivated to believe that we are more skilled, more.

Brad:

Virtuous, you know, moral, any self evaluative dimension.

Brad:

There's pretty good research that people tend to inflate those.

Brad:

So I think there may be just a natural internal tendency that

Brad:

gets in the way of self-awareness.

Aaron:

That sounds like exactly the kind of baked in behavior

Aaron:

that is incredibly hard to change.

Aaron:

I mean as any one of us ever, truly self-aware?

Brad:

I also think it's important to point out that arriving at perfect

Brad:

self-awareness is not really the point and nor is it likely possible,

Brad:

but humble people, they embrace the journey of accurate self-awareness.

Brad:

Some may find it a barrier, just saying I'll always have blind spots and I

Brad:

can't see what other people can see.

Brad:

Therefore, why, why embrace accurate self-awareness if I

Brad:

can never really get there.

Brad:

But I think the key point is humility gives you an openness and a desire to grow

Brad:

more accurate self-awareness over time.

Aaron:

If you remember, there are three behaviors tied to humility and we've

Aaron:

mostly been talking about self-awareness.

Aaron:

What about the next one?

Aaron:

Teachability

Brad:

As far as barriers for teachability?

Brad:

That's a good question.

Brad:

When we lack the, the true kind of awareness of what

Brad:

we know, what we're good at.

Brad:

I think it also.

Brad:

May negatively influence our willingness to be open to learning

Brad:

from others and to feedback.

Aaron:

I just read recently, a comments in this great book called the self-

Aaron:

renewal written by a guy named John W.

Aaron:

Gardner.

Aaron:

One of the things he talks about in there is, is that a problem we have is

Aaron:

that so many people are resistant to learning because learning involves failure

Aaron:

and they're just scared of failure.

Aaron:

But do you think that's a barrier to teach-ability?

Aaron:

Is this fear of failure?

Brad:

Yeah, absolutely.

Brad:

Yeah.

Brad:

We do have stories about individuals who.

Brad:

As leaders, they're trying to get their employees to become more creative and

Brad:

innovative, and they've voiced that that's a barrier that they have, and by

Brad:

communicating their own failures and their own growing pains, it helps in a way to

Brad:

liberate others to hopefully embrace the idea of failing fast and failing your way

Brad:

to making progress along certain goals.

Aaron:

Summarizing again, teachability is often disrupted by fear.

Aaron:

If we can create more friendly environments for ourselves

Aaron:

and others, we cultivate more opportunities to act humbly.

Aaron:

So now what about the third attribute?

Aaron:

Appreciating others.

Brad:

As far as the third dimension of humility, this

Brad:

idea of appreciating others.

Brad:

I think barriers there may stem from everyone growing up in kind of this

Brad:

comparative competitive social context.

Brad:

Humble people see others as exemplars from whom they might learn rather than

Brad:

threats to their own ability to shine.

Brad:

In a way humility enables someone to overcome that kind of comparative

Brad:

competitive social lens, I'd say.

Brad:

And I think that takes some doing, and it takes some salient experiences

Brad:

or a measure of enlightenment to be able to overcome feeling threatened

Brad:

when there's other people around you who are talented in unique ways.

Aaron:

It makes total sense that we have a harder time appreciating others.

Aaron:

If we spend our time comparing ourselves to them, social media seems designed

Aaron:

then to damage our ability to do that.

Aaron:

Platforms like Instagram, if we're not careful, leave us comparing our worst

Aaron:

to someone else's best in that setting.

Aaron:

We're more likely to resent others than we are to appreciate them.

Aaron:

Maybe one thing we can do is to stop treating admiration as a scarce resource.

Aaron:

The truth is that we can give praise, show gratitude or otherwise compliment

Aaron:

people all the time admiration in the end is really only as scarce as we make it.

Aaron:

I hope you've been finding this conversation as useful as I have.

Aaron:

So here's another question.

Aaron:

Are there specific leadership moments where expressing humility is a bad idea?

Brad:

Early in our research, we really try to identify boundary conditions

Brad:

for the effectiveness of humility.

Brad:

And so in every interview that we did and kind of military organizations,

Brad:

non-profits, business organizations, we'd ask them in what situations is humility

Brad:

and leadership, a bad idea, basically the scenarios that they communicated that

Brad:

were less effective for humility entailed.

Brad:

Situations of extremely high threat where people's lives are on the

Brad:

line and, great time pressure.

Brad:

The process, of leading with humility seems to take time, it unfolds.

Brad:

And so in those situations of extremely high threat and time pressure, like a

Brad:

combat situation, for instance, those who are being led need order and direction.

Brad:

Rather than to feel validated or to open things up, to get everybody's ideas or

Brad:

for the leader to communicate their fear.

Brad:

I remember one mortgage banking leader said there are certain times when you

Brad:

do have to put on a strong front and that's what the employees need from you.

Brad:

And then you can go home and privately freak out was the quote that she used.

Brad:

I think that also humility may not be most effective for leaders that have zero kind

Brad:

of equity with people yet, meaning a brand new leader that gets into an organization.

Brad:

There's some measure of kind of competence or credibility that

Brad:

needs to be established because humility doesn't fulfill most.

Brad:

People's initial, expectations for what makes a really good leader.

Brad:

I think they, they want to see some measure of competence first

Brad:

and strength, that kind of thing.

Aaron:

Humility doesn't replace competence.

Aaron:

It only enhances it.

Aaron:

You need to be good at your job and be able to show that to other people.

Brad:

The paradox is that those who are brand new in their jobs, especially in

Brad:

their roles as leaders, that may be the time when humility is most important.

Brad:

They, need to be teachable and, and identifying mentors around them.

Brad:

But it also may be the time where humility could be more risky.

Brad:

If you have a CEO who is obviously accomplished very much, them showing

Brad:

humility, doesn't burn idiosyncrasy credits for those who don't expect that

Brad:

as much from a leader compared to the brand new leader installed in a department

Brad:

where they don't know him or her at all.

Aaron:

So Brad also pointed to a study of people who are

Aaron:

attractive or have high charisma.

Aaron:

And the humility works better for them.

Aaron:

So if you're especially beautiful or handsome, showing the humility

Aaron:

works even better for you than the rest of us, average people.

Aaron:

Brad is also doing research on the boundary conditions of humility and

Aaron:

part of what his research shows is that there's special rules in a time

Aaron:

of crisis it's in those moments that you should maybe show less humility

Aaron:

to get people to act quickly, but that usually only works if you used

Aaron:

humility and the low pressure times to make sure that people trusted you.

Brad:

One thing we did find is military leaders who were able

Brad:

to leave with more humility.

Brad:

Which in a way they shared their leadership around the team when crises

Brad:

did emerge, if that leaders kind of typical posture was to be more humble

Brad:

and kind of communal and bottom up in their leadership, when needed in combat

Brad:

situations, they were much more able to lead effectively when they had to assume

Brad:

a more top-down authoritative posture.

Brad:

And so it's easier to go from humility to kind of, again, a stern top-down

Brad:

leadership approach compared to the leaders who were more top down

Brad:

and authoritarian from the get go.

Brad:

If for instance, something went wrong or they were in a situation where they

Brad:

needed to get input from everyone, it was very difficult and those leaders

Brad:

struggled because those being led were not used to functioning that way.

Aaron:

They were just used to being told what to do.

Aaron:

And so there's kind of this asymmetry in being able to switch

Aaron:

different leadership modes.

Aaron:

Words is easier to be tough if you've been humble than it is to be humble if you're

Aaron:

always tough, but if humility doesn't fit your natural instinct or abilities,

Aaron:

Don't give up hope on developing it.

Aaron:

Do you think humility comes naturally to some people more than others?

Brad:

I don't have data on, on this.

Brad:

I personally know people who have always been more humble interpersonally in their

Brad:

interactions and in the way that they respond to accolades and things like that.

Brad:

So, Whether it's upbringing, there's some ideas from X line and Tag Me that

Brad:

having more adaptive kind of let's see.

Brad:

I'm actually trying to remember the phrase.

Brad:

Attachment.

Brad:

Yeah.

Brad:

More attachment to higher attachment.

Brad:

Growing up with your parents is, is very important in that narcissism or arrogance

Brad:

may be the response of some developmental and relationally based deficits

Brad:

that occurred earlier in one's life.

Brad:

So.

Brad:

Even though I think humility can be developed and there's behaviors

Brad:

you can embrace and, and kind of inculcate into your character.

Brad:

It does seem like there are some.

Brad:

Significant life events or things related to upbringing.

Brad:

One's kind of religious or moral foundation that makes

Brad:

someone more inclined to embrace and see value in humility.

Aaron:

Yeah.

Aaron:

So there are people who are still, despite everything that you've identified are

Aaron:

going to approach humility, cynically.

Aaron:

Probably because they don't exercise or demonstrated all that much, but how

Aaron:

do you persuade the humility Cynic?

Brad:

So I love this marketing strategy of Nike that they employed in a

Brad:

kind of the eighties and nineties.

Brad:

They basically said to the world that if our shoes are good enough for Michael

Brad:

Jordan, they're good enough for you.

Brad:

And so using that same strategy.

Brad:

Colleagues and I have been examining humility more and more

Brad:

in the most extreme context that we can kind of have access to.

Brad:

And so I've been over to west point a couple of times, and actually there's

Brad:

interviews going on right now where we're interviewing special operations,

Brad:

commandos, and other combat leaders.

Brad:

Even though I just spoke about how in situations of extreme

Brad:

threat and time pressure.

Brad:

Combat would be times when humility is less effective.

Brad:

It's been surprising at just how much these leaders who lead in some of the most

Brad:

intense, scary, dangerous contexts you can imagine, how much they see humility

Brad:

as being a defining feature of someone who's effective in those contexts.

Brad:

And to be able to prepare your team to function effectively

Brad:

in those kinds of contexts.

Brad:

And so we've just been compiling and gathering story after story where

Brad:

these leaders who are actually the ones who successfully have been in

Brad:

combat, been deployed several times, invited back to Westpoint to train the

Brad:

next generation of west point leaders.

Brad:

They, seem to identify this what I would call Westpoint disease.

Brad:

And that is you have this, these best of the best cadets who have succeeded

Brad:

at almost everything they've ever tried.

Brad:

It's so difficult to get into west point and they get to west point and

Brad:

they're told they're given the most superior tactical training and leadership

Brad:

preparation and it is exceptional.

Brad:

And then they get to the field and.

Brad:

There, can be a measure of overconfidence that occurs, and it seems like the, those

Brad:

leading or teaching leadership classes there at west point, and these other

Brad:

two are at west point and trying to help kind of prepare the next generation.

Brad:

That humility is a key piece of, what they're trying to facilitate.

Brad:

And there's, there's obviously lots of other.

Brad:

I think characteristics that good leaders need, but humility is the one where it

Brad:

takes they're especially kind of seem to be focusing on and as kind of evidence

Brad:

for the significance of, humility over the last, I think it was two months ago.

Brad:

The army core leadership doctrine changed its documents.

Brad:

You include humility has an important piece.

Brad:

Meaning that every army leader is going to be trained or at

Brad:

least is going to be emphasized.

Brad:

That humility is a key part of effective leadership in the army.

Aaron:

I hope that example, which I love wins people over to being more humble.

Aaron:

It really matters.

Aaron:

And not just at work.

Aaron:

Humility probably has its biggest impact in our personal relationships.

Aaron:

Next question.

Aaron:

I mean, we've been talking about humility in the context of organizations

Aaron:

primarily, but what difference do you think humility makes in our

Aaron:

personal and family relationships?

Brad:

Hmm that's that's a great question.

Brad:

It's as we did a lot of our interviews, it was interesting how many of

Brad:

these executives cited examples of the importance of humility and

Brad:

how it's affected their personal lives, their leadership coach, who

Brad:

I got in contact with his core.

Brad:

Purpose was to try and facilitate greater humility in corporate leadership.

Brad:

And so it was definitely professionally focused with many of these leaders

Brad:

were sharing how applying concepts of humility in their homes that had

Brad:

made things better in some cases better than they've ever been.

Brad:

So I tried to look into this and kind of drill down and found that

Brad:

there's this, relational psychologist.

Brad:

Last name is means.

Brad:

And in, 78, he published a paper detailing what he called humility training, and

Brad:

basically believed that that humility enables people to overcome some of

Brad:

the most significant kind of roots of relational problems, kind of the self over

Brad:

self-focus, and inability to empathize.

Brad:

And, and so.

Brad:

I, I know that currently there are scholars I'm aware of who are

Brad:

developing humility trainings to take marital couples through or,

Brad:

uh, to enhance family relationships.

Brad:

And part of the, the reason why it's so important for more effective

Brad:

personal relationships is because.

Brad:

The humility can be seen as a form of non-material social giving and

Brad:

where you're giving voice giving validation, giving license to be

Brad:

imperfect or to be developing.

Brad:

And so when that occurs, then it creates a more relational safety,

Brad:

security, um, and ability for the relationship to, be more resilient.

Brad:

You know, when.

Brad:

When there's difficulty.

Brad:

So the commitment to accurate self-awareness and owning of mistakes

Brad:

to teach ability or openness to kind of learn what another person's needs are.

Brad:

Right.

Brad:

And then a pension to show and feel deep appreciation for the

Brad:

uniqueness of other people.

Brad:

You can just imagine how these three things could be helpful

Brad:

in fostering, healthy family and other personal relationships.

Aaron:

As you can imagine, Brad has encountered incredible

Aaron:

examples of humility.

Aaron:

He's something like a humility connoisseur.

Aaron:

I asked him to share a favorite story or two.

Brad:

There's a few.

Brad:

Yeah.

Brad:

One that I really love is when the revolutionary war was won and

Brad:

there was a report to king George who was just defeated in war

Brad:

that general George Washington, it was his intention to return.

Brad:

All military power back to the people back to Congress and king George's response

Brad:

to that, I think is really interesting when he heard that he said, quote, if

Brad:

he, George Washington does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.

Brad:

And the reason I love that was it.

Brad:

Wasn't George Washington's military kind of strategy.

Brad:

Leadership is kind of strategical acumen that, that won this opinion

Brad:

from his opponent in a way.

Brad:

But it was that George Washington was willing to do what very few others

Brad:

in his position were able to do.

Brad:

And that is to, again, return power back to the people rather than

Brad:

install himself, as a dictator.

Brad:

And so Cincinnatus is another one in Rome that also was able to, to do that.

Brad:

Um, but otherwise you can look at Napoleon installing and others, and once they were,

Brad:

they won a war that they were a leader of they installed themselves as a leader.

Brad:

And there's a great book by David J Bob it's entitled humility, unlikely.

Brad:

A history of America's greatest virtue.

Brad:

And he talks about how humility, the humility of George Washington

Brad:

and Abraham Lincoln and others actually enabled this great nation

Brad:

to be born and to become great.

Brad:

And that without it, we would.

Brad:

Have kind of, uh, defaulted to kind of past forms of government that just were

Brad:

not as sustainable as kind of democratic.

Brad:

So that's kind of a general kind of larger historical

Brad:

example, a more current example.

Brad:

Paul Neal from Alcoa, I think is also a good example of humility.

Brad:

There's stories of him writing handwritten notes of appreciation to

Brad:

members of the organization, and many CEOs have done this, but it just shows

Brad:

individual and personal understanding of the value of people in the

Brad:

organization taking time, to honor them.

Brad:

I'm just reflecting this third dimension of humility and appreciation of others.

Brad:

And so he also seemed to be one who was open to feedback was very empowering of

Brad:

others in the organization, not seeking a lot of positive attention for himself,

Brad:

just wanting everybody to grow and to leave a positive legacy that that would

Brad:

extend far past his, his tenure there.

Brad:

So David Neeleman at JetBlue, even though now he said, Azule, I believe he started

Brad:

the Rio de Janeiro based airline company.

Brad:

But while at Jet Blue, during the holidays, he would be out in the

Brad:

baggage, loading and unloading baggage, or in the planes cleaning up in order

Brad:

to show and communicate to everyone that, especially during the very busy

Brad:

holiday time that no job was too menial.

Brad:

And the CEO, president and founder of the company was there doing some of that

Brad:

manual labor, just again, to show how much he valued everybody's contributions.

Aaron:

So here's the last big question.

Aaron:

And I like asking this, I asked Jeff this about calling, but I think it's

Aaron:

really interesting to think of it from the perspective of humility.

Aaron:

How is the world different?

Aaron:

If everyone is more humble?

Brad:

Wow.

Brad:

That's a, that's a great question.

Brad:

I think that.

Brad:

We'd experience more legitimate and actual personal growth and development

Brad:

rather than a lot of it appearances, trying to appear competent or successful.

Brad:

And I know people that, that aren't necessarily doing that,

Brad:

but I think that we would progress intrapersonally and interpersonally.

Brad:

If there was more humility, I think some of the major.

Brad:

Kind of stumbling blocks that make people unhappy, have to do with a,

Brad:

over an inaccurate view of themselves and, and the weight of trying to

Brad:

maintain that ,inaccurate view.

Brad:

And so I think humility instead kind of fosters this underlying belief

Brad:

in personal malleability and the possibility of growth and therefore.

Brad:

You'd be freed from kind of the tyranny of your current limitations.

Brad:

Foibles, weaknesses are just they're temporary rather than permanent.

Brad:

They're things that you can.

Brad:

Outgrow, you can, you can develop further.

Brad:

And from that perspective, your strengths are the things

Brad:

that really define who you are.

Brad:

Those are the things that are permanent and all your weaknesses are merely

Brad:

temporary from this kind of this growth mindset that humility fosters.

Brad:

And I think that that would, that could be very liberating for people

Brad:

who are in more of a fixed mindset.

Brad:

I think generally.

Brad:

People would make better moral or ethical decisions.

Brad:

Emmanuel concept that the root of all vice is self worship.

Brad:

And so the opposite of self worship is self-transcendence and humility

Brad:

is a virtue of self-transcendence that's its philosophical core.

Brad:

And so I think that moral character and moral strength would be more important if,

Brad:

if there was more humility in the world compared to other metrics of success.

Aaron:

So humility, despite all its benefits, isn't just for getting work to

Aaron:

go better or to make people like you more, perhaps its greatest power is how it opens

Aaron:

the door for us to become better people.

Aaron:

None of us is perfect, but none of us can improve if we aren't first humble.

Aaron:

I can't really express this idea as beautifully as mother Teresa.

Aaron:

So I'm just going to quote her here.

Aaron:

This is what she said in her book, in the heart of the world.

Aaron:

Humility is the mother of all virtues, purity, charity, and obedience.

Aaron:

It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted, and ardent.

Aaron:

If you are a humble, nothing will touch you.

Aaron:

Neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.

Aaron:

If you are blamed, you will not be discouraged.

Aaron:

If they call you a Saint, you will not put yourself on a pedestal.

Aaron:

Humility really is the mother of all virtues.

Aaron:

Well, Mother Teresa is, and the only person to make this observation,

Aaron:

I love her expression of it.

Aaron:

It's out of humility that we all have a way to grow and the

Aaron:

attributes that make more out of us.

Aaron:

So grateful to my friend, professor Brad Owens for taking the time to

Aaron:

talk with me, you can learn more about his research using some of the links

Aaron:

that we provided in the show notes.

Aaron:

And keep an eye on him, because if you ever get a chance to hear him speak a

Aaron:

guarantee, it will be worth your time.

Aaron:

If you've enjoyed this season of How to Help, please take a moment to give us

Aaron:

a positive review in your podcast app.

Aaron:

We always are hoping to reach more listeners.

Aaron:

Also be sure to subscribe.

Aaron:

So you'll be notified when our second season launches as for season

Aaron:

two and in the spirit of humility.

Aaron:

I would love to hear your feedback on how to improve.

Aaron:

What did you love?

Aaron:

What would you change?

Aaron:

You can find me on twitter@aaronmiller or send us feedback to podcast at

Aaron:

how-two-help.com as you await season to consider subscribing to the

Aaron:

weekly newsletter for How to Help each addition recommends high impact

Aaron:

organizations and shares ideas for how to have more meaning in your work.

Aaron:

You can find that at our website, we are incredibly grateful to Merit Leadership

Aaron:

for sponsoring season one of the podcasts and our production team, which

Aaron:

included Cyndi Hall, Travis Stevenson, yours truly, and Eric Robertson,

Aaron:

who did the editing and the music.

Aaron:

Our music comes from the Pleasant Pictures, Music Club.

Aaron:

If you want to use their music in your projects, you can find a link

Aaron:

and a discount code in our show notes.

Aaron:

Finally as always, and especially here at the end of our first season.

Aaron:

Thank you so much for listening.

Aaron:

I am Aaron Miller and this has been season one of How to Help.