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There are many traits that define successful entrepreneurs (and successful leaders in general). They’re confident. They’re decisive. They’re calm under pressure. But there’s an underrated quality that may be even more important: humility.
Learning to cultivate humility within yourself, and possibly within your team members, can help you lead more efficiently and see the world in a different way.
The value of humility
Humility is the quality of being humble. In a practical context, this means setting aside your ego and understanding your own imperfections. In some ways, this is the opposite of typical entrepreneurial advice; entrepreneurs are often encouraged to be as confident and self-assured as possible, and humility may seem to contradict this quality.
So what value can this have in your organization?
Humility helps you in a number of ways:
- Strengthening social bonds. First, humility has the power to strengthen your social bonds for somewhat obvious reasons. When you display humility in a workplace environment, you immediately make yourself more approachable. You’re receptive to feedback and criticism, which makes you seem more open-minded. You’re welcoming and you see others as peers, so people are more likely to be friendly with you. And you don’t take yourself too seriously, which means people are more willing to joke around with you. These are great effects if you want to develop a team (or make a good impression on a client).
- Helping to identify weaknesses. Humility is also an important prerequisite for self-improvement. Before you can improve upon a weakness, you have to acknowledge that the weakness exists. Humility allows you to do this. You’re more honest with yourself and more willing to identify the qualities that keep you from reaching your full potential.
- Being open to learning from others. It’s impossible to learn from someone else unless you admit that they have something to teach you. If you humble yourself, you’ll be much more likely to learn from a true expert than to assert your own expertise. You’ll even be able to learn from non-experts because you’ll take their ideas and perspectives seriously. In time this allows you to collect much more information and eventually become an expert in your own right.
- Remaining competitive. When you feel humble, you’re more likely to acknowledge the potential threat of competition. You don’t believe that you’re unstoppable or that no one can catch up to you. Instead, you’re acutely aware that you and your business are flawed, and that someone else could easily swoop in to threaten your market share. Accordingly, you can identify these threats, guard against them, and work harder to remain the dominant force in the industry.
- Improving health outcomes. There’s even evidence to suggest that higher levels of humility can lead to better health outcomes. Humble people tend to have better social relationships and tend to be less negatively affected by threatening events or conflicts. They are also aware of their own mortality and frailty and are more likely to protect themselves proactively as a result.
How to cultivate humility
Some people are naturally humbler than others. Does that mean if you’re not already humble that you’ll miss out on all these benefits?
Not necessarily. Humility can be cultivated and developed, almost like a skill, if you’re willing to put in the work.
- Check your entitlement. Humility is highly associated with “hypo-egoic nonentitlement.” In other words, humble people are less likely to believe that their accomplishments or characteristics entitle them to special treatment. If you find yourself thinking that you deserve better, or that you deserve something for less time, money, or effort than someone else, take a step back. Why do you have this sense of entitlement?
- Exercise gratitude. Spend time each day expressing gratitude for all the good things in your life. Think about how much luck you’ve experienced over the course of your life, and how much you value and depend on other people around you. This also has the added benefit of improving your mood and making you more positive.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness forces you to introspect, letting go of invasive thoughts and distracting ideas in favor of a state of pure consciousness. It’s difficult to master, but with practice, any meditative work can be valuable to these ends. Mindful people have much more control over their reactive emotions and are much calmer in tense situations. They’re also more patient, more forgiving and much more likely to keep their ego from interfering with their work or relationships.
Higher levels of humility can make you a better entrepreneur and a better leader. They might even make you happier in your own personal life. Spend some time acknowledging this characteristic in yourself and refining it to better suit you in your profession.
Originally appeared in Entrepreneur