[Friday Coaching Corner] How Humility Impacts Organizations

This post continues the series on humility, previous posts can be found here and here. It also is part of the weekly Friday “Coaching Corner” (a deeper, more  in-depth focus on organizational development and related subjects)

When I began examining humility one thing bothered within the literature – it only examined and discussed humility as something that happens within the individual. As a researcher and practitioner focused on teams and groups, I was more interested in how humility (which as I have already posted in this series is one of my favorite topics to discuss) can transcend the individual and actually make its home within the fabric of a group or team. So I set out to build a case that this very thing was a reality. A discussion of the research, and its implications for organizations follows.

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The Perception of Group Humility (PGH) Scale was developed through a two-part research study examining individuals working as Emergency Medical Technicians in part 1, and those who are Middle School Teachers in part 2. Saving you the very technical aspects of the research (e.g. validation, factor analysis and the like). In the second study, an examination of the relationship between the PGH scale and some very important organizational activities was engaged. The results were overwhelmingly positive!

The results of this study presented that the existence of higher levels of the PGH positively related to the existence of Participative Leadership Behaviors (willingness for leaders to allow others to participate in the leadership process), Collective Efficacy (expectation that a group can accomplish the tasks before them), Organizational Citizenship Behaviors (positive behaviors enacted by members of an organization to show care for others), and Team-Learning Orientation (the focus a group has on learning).

These findings are important to any organization, as within the present organizational environment a great deal of collaboration and sharing of resources is needed for a positive, learning-centered culture. At the core, the humility virtue – and by extension, the group humility phenomena – seems to render a path forward in understanding how the challenge of individual and collective humility can be best engendered.

This path forward occurs as the organization promotes the value of humility as advantageous to their culture and performance. The understanding that humility includes a low self-focus, accurate portrayal of self and others, willingness to learn, and appreciation of others can serve to aid organizations significantly.Some areas that humility has the distinct potential to impact organizations are: long-term planning, enculturation of new organizational members, leadership development, and group functioning.

In this research, humility was examined for its ability to transcend the individual and become a group trait/norm. Through the perception of group members participating in Study I was validated. Group members were able to perceive within their teams/groups the presence of a willingness to learn, proper placement of self in relation to others, care and concern for group members, and an accurate self-knowledge. In Study II, the four hypotheses were examined, with each data set displaying a significant, positive relationships between Perceived Group Humility and the outcome variable. In each of the regression analyses a positive relationship was found, as had been posited based on the theoretical underpinnings found in the literature. The strength of the relationship in each of the four was more than expected, with the final three hypotheses showing extremely strong relationship.

The statistical results of this research inquiry present an important case for the value of PGH in its relationship to other positive, other-oriented (and well accepted) group constructs. As such, we see the multi-functional aspect of group humility with its influence on leadership behaviors, expectations of efficacy, citizenship behaviors, and learning paradigm. While it is too soon to say what this construct will show over the course of time, the PGH scale clearly offers tremendous insight into important areas of growth for organizations as they daily enact group structures.

Discussion of the Claims of the Research Study

This research follows within a research agenda seeking to better understand what humility actually is. Over the last decade and a half, the process of re-establishing the definition of humility has made great strides in moving away from the mentality of the downtrodden, lacking, ‘wimp’ to the pattern held by individuals (and now – groups) that exhibit a low self-focus, an acknowledgement of personal limitations, openness to the ideas of others, the ability to keep one’s accomplishments and abilities in the proper perspective, and an appreciation of the value of all things (see research by  Julie Tangney at George Mason University).

This research established that the presence of PGH was a vital foundation for virtuous behaviors. At the outset of this study, it was posited in that humility has the potential to re-orient individuals, groups, organizations, and even societies. Within the studies in this research, it was established that the presence of humility within a group is strongly related to the orientation of helping others. This fits well with previous findings, in which individuals exemplifying humility have a low self-focus, an appreciation of the strengths of others, and a desire to learn. In an ever-changing world, that is continually finding opportunities for the use of groups, the understanding that groups can have significant impact both internally and externally through the enactment of group humility, leads to the possibility that an encouragement of real and substantive good can be engaged in organizations and communities.

Organizations can also benefit significantly from the new understanding of the effects of humility on learning, particularly that of a group. As learning has become a vital financial (as well as operational) concern in organizations, it is of increasing importance for organizational leaders to better understand how to encourage the growth and learning of groups and their members. While arrogant individuals and those expressing low-humility are unlikely to engage in, and enact new learnings, individuals and groups that express humility are more likely to seek out new learnings, as they first recognize that they are not perfect. In Study II the data showed that there was a strong, positive relationship between PGH and a Team-Learning Orientation. The importance of humility within individuals and groups (as the connection to team-learning orientation should note) may prove to be valuable in finding an increase in the transfer of training rates, and thus the financial allocation for training within organizations.

Finally, this study provides great hope for how humility and collective efficacy in tandem can establish more accurate goal-setting and performance expectations. Organizations stand to be in much better position, fiscally, purely through the means of better understanding their own competencies and capabilities. In this research it was established that there is a strong, positive relationship between PGH and Collective Efficacy. With this connection at the forefront, the presence of group humility and the correlate, a higher level of collective efficacy, should present an opportunity for establishing proper, reachable standards, thus helping prevent a great deal of waste, over-inflated goals, and the potential for new areas of growth.

Opportunities for Organizations

These findings have the potential to positively impact the culture and bottom line of any organization through the implementation of some, or all of the following methods:

1)      Beginning with upper leadership, model humility through:

  1. A demonstrated willingness to learn, as well as the acknowledging the specialized knowledge that others bring to the table.
  2. Maintaining a proper placement of themselves (not overly important or overly unimportant, not taking credit for what others have done, etc.)
  3. Show care and concern for other group/organization members through checking in at appropriate junctures and assessing what is needed for others to thrive.
  4. Develop an open and honest feedback circle which allows for an understanding of what one does well and needs to improve on.

2)      Demonstrate the importance of organizational values through:

  1. Display values in public places.
  2. Enactment of feedback processes for recognizing extraordinary examples.
  3. Consistent reminder and encouragement of these values.

It is important that while encouraging and researching the value and importance of humility within groups and organizations, that humility doesn’t become ‘cheapened’ or ‘manufactured’. When individuals and groups truly enact the behaviors that undergird humility, growth most certainly will take place. However, when false modesty is implemented and modeled, little value will be found.

True humility, as enacted within groups should assist the development of an uplifting organizational climate. With the recasting of the humility construct and the substantiation of humility as leading to care and development of others, humility solidifies its value in the organization. As such, it is imperative that organizations, awake to the blessings found in this humble perspective. Given that almost every organization utilizes groups for some aspect or function, it should become imperative for organizations of all stripes to seek for better understanding about how group humility functions, how it can be encouraged, and what that means for recruitment, leadership, and training.

If you would like to learn more about this research and the Perception of Group Humility scale, please leave a comment below.

One thought on “[Friday Coaching Corner] How Humility Impacts Organizations

  1. Pingback: If it doesn’t challenge me, why do it? | teamworkdoc

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