In this series we’re talking about the three traits every person on your team should possess, according to The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni.
The traits are:
3. People smart
At Telcion we adopted these as ideal qualities we would look for in every person we hired. This “hungry, humble, smart” filter has helped us improve the quality of our team and our ability to hire well.
Not to be confused with core values, which vary by organization, “hungry, humble, smart” are universal and should apply to people on any team. They are also most powerful when combined together. Individuals who have all three are the coveted team players we seek to find.
If you missed the first post you can find it here.
Today we’re discussing the second trait—humble.
My History with Humility... or Lack Thereof
Being humble is crucial to being a good team player. I have a lot of experience with not being humble early in my career, so to illustrate the importance of this trait, I’ll share some of my story…
I’ve been in the technology business my entire life. When I was 8 years old I bought my first computer, and when I was 12 years old I bought an IBM PC. Growing up, I mowed lawns year round to support my computer habit.
I was fortunate to have parents who allowed me to develop computer skills at such a young age. I spent dozens of hours a week in my room, tinkering with my computer, learning everything I could. By the time I graduated high school, I had invested significant time in computers.
You may have heard the common theory that if you want to be an expert at something, you need to spend 10,000 hours at it? I may not have had quite that many hours, but I was quickly approaching it.
The problem is that my personality has a natural inclination towards self-confidence. Nobody has ever told me that I lack it. Combine that with my father’s proclivity towards encouragement, and all I heard growing up was how good I was and how I could do anything I set my mind to.
I look back at how I was then and laugh. I can’t even believe how arrogant I was—I mean, it was really bad. I used to walk around and tell people, “I AM AWESOME!” I still have a t-shirt someone gave me that has those words emblazoned on the front, not realizing at the time that they were making fun of me.
At my 18th birthday party, one of my older friends—a musician—told me he wanted to play a song for me in my honor. Of course I thought that would be great. Little did I know, this birthday party was about to turn into more of a roast!
The song he played is called “Lord It’s Hard to Be Humble,” by Mac Davis. The chorus goes like this:
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble
When you're perfect in every way
I can't wait to look in the mirror
I get better looking each day
To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble
We're doing the best that we can
Needless to say, all my friends and family had a great laugh at my expense. I didn’t understand yet what it meant to not be humble and how that impacted people around me. In time, I would learn.
After high school I went to work at a local computer company—doing what I loved and getting paid for it. Does it get any better than that?
But it was at this job that I started to see how my lack of humility affected others. Everything was great from my perspective, but over time I began to realize that my coworkers secretly hated me. They couldn’t handle my outsized ego and were routinely trying to find ways to bring me back down to size. I can’t blame them; I was an ass. Always trying to take credit, never giving credit to anyone else. I did everything I could to make others look bad so I could look smarter.
As I got older, I started learning that I really didn’t know everything.
When a client hires you to upgrade their computer and you lose all their data in the process, it’s not a good feeling. Do that on a network server that contains an entire organization’s data and it really sucks. Especially when you tell the client that you only need a 1-hour maintenance window and instead spend the next 3 days trying to piece together old backups and restore the system.
Dozens of humbling experiences later, I began to see that I wasn’t God’s gift to the computer world. And in fact, there were many people around me who were much smarter.
Nobody Likes a Know-It-All
So here’s the deal: humility enables a far richer and rewarding life experience.
Nobody likes the guy who thinks he knows it all. Or the girl who never shares credit with the rest of the team. Or the person who always boasts about their accomplishments and makes everything about them. Or the person who is only concerned about their status at the company.
When a person like this is on a team, everyone else will look for ways to avoid working with them. Who wants to be around someone who always thinks they are right or have the best idea.
It’s often difficult to remove these folks from a team, because in most cases they are very good at what they do. Leaders like to have people on the team who are highly skilled and confident in what they know. But the bottom line is that no one can know everything. And often, the best ideas surface when the team works together.
How to Spot a Humble Person
What does a humble team player look like?
- They lack excessive ego
- They aren’t concerned about status—titles and position don’t matter
- They are quick to point out the contributions of others
- They are slow to seek attention for their own efforts
- They share credit
- They emphasize team over self
- They define success as a team rather than as an individual
Often, people’s lack of humility stems from an insecurity. To compensate for a perceived deficiency, they behave arrogantly—beyond just self-confidence.
Prideful people have outsized egos that don’t allow for the idea that they could be wrong about something. They want all the credit, constantly promote themselves and their latest achievements, are generally self-centered, and don’t care about how their actions impact the larger team. It’s all about “me.”
False humility is also unhealthy. This is the person who lacks self confidence but comes across as very generous and positive with others. They tend to discount their own skills and abilities, so others see them as humble. But they really aren’t. Though they aren’t arrogant, they lack an understanding of their own self-worth. This is a violation of humility. Truly humble people don’t see themselves as better than they are, nor less than they are—they don’t discount their talents and contributions.
I love this quote by C.S. Lewis: “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
Why is a person who doesn’t value their self-worth bad for the team? Because they don’t advocate for their own ideas or call out problems when they see them. Both versions of this lack of humility are rooted in a sense of insecurity. This makes some people over confident and some people under confident. Both diminish the results of the team.
You Can Get Better
So how did my story end up? Well, 30 years later I wish I could say I had this “humble” thing nailed. It’s a lot better, but it’s not perfect. I work at it every day. I’m very aware of my tendency to lack humility, and I understand the detriment it can be to my team.
One of the things I had to learn is that my lack of humility derived from my own insecurity—a desire for others to see me as the smartest person in the room. Once I realized my behaviors stemmed from this it became easier to deal with my flaws and behave in a better way.
What I can tell you is that if you have this character flaw too, you can get better and become the kind of teammate everyone wants to work with and be around. The results you will see from the team will be far greater than anything you can do by yourself, and far more rewarding.
I’ve really enjoyed being part of a team and working together to build a great business. I can tell you this for certain—I won’t get to the end of my life and wish I had been less humble!
[This article was contributed by Lance Reid, Telcion's CEO.]