When you ask someone – what is the opposite of humility? – the answers come quickly.
Arrogance. Egotism. Pride. Superiority. Haughtiness.
But when you ask someone – what is humility? – the answers come much more slowly.
Meekness. Quietness. Modesty?
So what does humility mean at work? And what would it look like if you saw it?
At Popeyes, I give an award at our monthly company meetings called The Grasshopper Award. I developed this award when I realized that many people in our organization were doing great things, seeking no recognition for themselves. I was concerned that we might fall into the trap of only recognizing extroverts, high achievers – those who might seek out recognition. And we might miss the people working with humility.
The name of the award comes from the words of a prophet named Isaiah, who said, “God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are mere grasshoppers.” Pretty humbling to think we look like grasshoppers from the heavens.
When I explain the award at the meeting, I remind the team that Grasshoppers are those people who quietly do great work, without seeking recognition for themselves. And when I give the award, the people I recognize always blush with embarrassment, because they are truly people who don’t want to be in the limelight. They just want to do good work for the people and the enterprise.
In short, the definition of humility at work is: Working for benefit of other people, not yourself.
Here are some examples of what it actually looks like in real life.
Andrea quietly organizes a picnic for the whole company with delicious food, lively music, games for the kids, and prizes for all.
John works late most Monday nights without mentioning it, so that the weekly sales report and analysis are always ready at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.
Peggy receives calls daily from franchise owners, looking for the right person to answer their question. Without fuss, she forwards them to the right person.
Marlon handles difficult calls from irate customers who have not been well-served. He never loses his temper with them, and they leave the call satisfied that someone cares.
Sterling works on the weekend to ensure that a restaurant opens without a hitch on Sunday night.
Valerie covers the shift for her assistant manager who is out sick, even though she hasn’t had a day off this week.
Jim gives the restaurant supervisor Fred a week off to help his mother move into a nursing home, and steps in to help out the team while Fred is out of town.
Cathy takes a late night phone call from an upset owner, who doesn’t understand a company policy, even though she is at her daughter’s birthday party.
You might be thinking: so what? This is the work that has to get done in a day to move the company forward. And yes, you are right. It is.
But a leader with humility does the work for the right reason.
They have made a commitment to serve others well – even when it is inconvenient to themselves.
Not expecting any recognition or award.
Let’s be a generation of leaders who breaks the pattern of self-centeredness and serves others with humility.