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Humility – The Trait to Cultivate, Especially For High Performers

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Many of the coaching clients I work with are highly successful business people with strong technical skills in their field of work whether it be engineering, architecture, accounting, human resources, project management, etc. They’ve worked hard to achieve their positions, are usually very capable and often the “go to” experts for colleagues, staff and customers. You might wonder then why they would need a career coach.

Where they tend to struggle and seek coaching support (or sometimes encouraged to by their managers) is regarding their interpersonal skills, also known as emotional intelligence(EI). They reach a point in their careers when they realize people don’t want to work with them or there is high turnover in their departments, morale may be poor and productivity suffering. They may be successful at getting things done but they leave people feeling damaged in the process.

Emotional Intelligence assessments and coaching provide insight into character traits that reflect our ability to understand ourselves on a deeper level so that we can learn to relate well with others to achieve our goals, minimize conflict and encourage collaborative behavior.

During the intake process with new clients I search for a specific quality that helps me determine how receptive they will be to coaching and the degree of success we will have in our working relationship- Humility.

In this context what I mean by humility is:

Are they open to feedback and willing to make important changes in in their own behavior? Can they be introspective and acknowledge they have room to learn and grow? Can they own their 50% and recognize how they are contributing to the broken relationship dynamics in their lives?

Let’s not mistake humility for turning the other cheek, giving in, staying quiet when we should speak up or allowing others to take credit for our hard work.

Humility actually requires a high degree of self-regard, self-confidence and being comfortable in our own skin. It’s about the ability to hold space for others to allow them to have their say and perhaps influence us in ways we may not have explored. Humility allows us to acknowledge our strengths and contributions while at the same recognizing that there is always something new to learn from others, even when we don’t agree.

The contrast to humility is narcissism. We’ve all come across people who are so enamored with their way of thinking and doing things that they close their minds to new ideas, overpower others and make them wrong- especially if they are being challenged.This becomes a dangerous mindset as it short-circuits the creative and collaborative process to solving problems and making decisions.

Sometimes they become victims of their own success. Their deep expertise and technical knowledge begins to work against them when they can’t balance those with openness, flexibility, empathy and relationship management. I remind my clients that any overplayed strength becomes a weakness when we rely too heavily on certain skills to get things done.

The clients that fast track through the coaching process are those who fully embrace the notion that they are responsible for where they are. This doesn’t excuse other peoples’ actions but how they react and respond to events and situations will ultimately influence the outcome and shift in circumstances-for better or worse.

Growing in emotional intelligence is a lifelong journey and it begins with having the humility to expand our self-awareness and be open to change as a basis for personal growth and development.

In my next post I will share more on how overplayed strengths can become our weaknesses. Stay tuned!