In the 1999 cult classic film “Office Space,” American corporate culture is portrayed as a place where everyone is underhanded with their peers and no one accepts blame when things go wrong. Mike Judge’s film is far from the only pop culture property to depict workplaces filled with figurative (if not literal) narcissists. Likewise, “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams is best known for his comic strip satirizing office culture before gaining notoriety as a Donald Trump hype man. Trump himself has promoted the idea that a lack of workplace humility is a virtue, from putting yourself and others at risk by working while sick with COVID-19 to supporting credible threats of violence against his own vice president. .
But is being “buck” the secret to success? Not so fast.
Scientifically speaking, it is better to be humble.
It turns out that showing respect for others and being responsible for one’s mistakes is much healthier than toxicity for individuals and companies. Scientifically speaking, it is better to be humble.
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“The humble organizational culture can be seen when a company cultivates six norms,” Tiffany Maldonado, PhD — assistant professor of management at Sam Houston State University — told Salon via email. According to Maldonado, these standards include:
- encourage an accurate and unbiased awareness of strengths and weaknesses
- be tolerant when employees make competent mistakes that are the result of innovative ideas – not faulty execution
- be transparent and honest with stakeholders
- be open to new ideas, even those that did not originate with senior management
- develop employees for lifelong learning
- recognize employees’ achievements in a meaningful way
Implicit in all of these goals, of course, is having a work environment in which people sensibly respect each other. Furthermore, the underlying theme in all these concepts is a very specific application of humility – that is, a practical application. While it can be debated whether it is moral to be humble, it is vital to any honest and effective self-inventory system. This applies both to organizations as a whole and to each individual within a given body.
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“In individuals, humility is having a realistic assessment of strengths and weaknesses,” Dusya Vera, Ph.D., Professor, Doctoral Coordinator, Department of Management and Leadership, CT Bauer College of Business, told the Salon by e- mail. “It’s about having the self-awareness to know one’s contributions along with the contributions of others, which made success possible.” For an organization to be productively humble, it needs to pay attention to “humility in the recruitment, promotion, and development of individuals.”
These benefits, of course, can only be achieved if the humility shown is genuine, which is not always the case.
“Daenerys is willing to accept feedback and surround herself with valuable advisors, as she knows she lacks certain skills.”
In a 2020 article for the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers found that employees could discern whether their managers were being humble out of self-interest or out of genuine empathy. While the latter scenario was obviously beneficial, employees who did not believe there was a sincere sense of companionship with humble leaders exhibited “subordinate psychological entitlement, which in turn increases deviance in the workplace.” For humility in any organization to be effective, the people at the top must be seen as acting in good faith when they reward achievement and accept personal blame, not exhibiting weakness or insincerity. The actions of those at the top of the organization create the environment in which everyone else works.
How do different levels of humility work when it comes to leadership? Maldonado turned to the widely loved TV show “Game of Thrones” to illustrate how sincere appreciation and cultivation of others’ strengths can affect the outcome.
Hannah Waddingham and Lena Headey in “Game Of Thrones” (HBO/Macall B. Polay)“Cersei rarely listens to the advice of others, has a high focus on herself because everything is about her, and she rarely appreciates how others have contributed to her success,” Maldonado said. In the show, this happened with Cersei rising high, but gaining many enemies, including betrayals from those closest to her.
Maldonado added, “Daenerys is willing to accept feedback and surround herself with valuable advisors, as she knows she lacks certain skills (this willingness to learn helped her gather armies and entire cities). Jon Snow has a low self-focus and thinks in others, but he often rejects advice that can lead to risky behavior and the need for someone to save him (note the Battle of the Bastards and the Battle of Winterfell).”
Vera drew on an observation by business management expert Patrick Lencioni from his popular 2016 book “The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues.” He proposed that a good team player should be “humble, hungry and smart. Hunger is about motivation and courage. Smart is about emotional intelligence (humanity). So again, the most effective teams have individuals who have a combination of humility, motivated, courageous and strong in emotional intelligence and humanity.”
Vera added: “People often associate humility with weakness, lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence. But humility is being self-aware and realistic about skills and contributions. You can be humble and ambitious, humble and motivated, humble and courageous, etc. .”
For more Salon articles on psychology:
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How to Process the Emotionally Unthinkable When You’re Online Too
Shaming someone for their privilege will hardly change their policy, psychologists say