What Personality Trait shines brightest?

Someone reminded me the other day (thanks? I think?) that I’m now approaching a quarter of a century in recruitment. Time has zipped by since I arrived in the big smoke from a tiny village in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales to start a new life in the City at BLT, armed with nothing but a briefcase and a degree in Latin and Ancient Greek. Neither of which proved much use whatsoever – the briefcase was a gift from mum and dad appropriate for a son starting a career in the City of London, and never made it to day 2 when I realised I wasn’t a stockbroker and how desperately uncool it was. And as for the Classics degree – well my knowledge of Greek mythology is sometimes quite useful for pub quizzes? 

I remember being very aware that I had very little to offer, but thankfully Beament, Leslie, Thomas & Watt thought differently and since then I’ve spent decades advising Indirect Tax specialists on their careers and helping a huge variety of businesses of all shapes and sizes around the globe find the talent they need. And learning all the while.

But what exactly have I learnt? Whilst recruitment is hardly an obviously technical discipline, there’s a very definite set of skills that you develop over time. But what it has taught me the most over the years is about people. So reflecting back over the last 25 years:

What character trait is the one I most admire in an individual?

The one that springs to mind immediately doesn’t get a lot of press. And that’s Humility.

It’s humble people that I most enjoy working with, that I most enjoy helping find jobs, and that I most enjoy finding talent for.

In my experience:

  • A humble person is self-aware.
  • A humble person is not arrogant.
  • A humble person is more prepared to show vulnerability.
  • A humble person appreciates and makes efforts to understand other people’s opinions.
  • A humble person has better listening skills.
  • A humble person can learn new and better ways of working.
  • A humble person has greater levels of empathy.
  • Humble people are more grateful for good things that happen to them.
  • There’s fewer barriers to getting to know a humble person’s real personality.

And therefore:

  • A humble leader recognises that other people can have different and better skills than they do.
  • A humble leader is a better delegator.
  • A humble leader is prepared to try out and learn new skills.
  • A humble leader is more consultative.
  • A humble leader seems almost ‘surprised’ by their own success.
  • Employees take pleasure in getting behind a humble leader and want them to achieve.
  • A humble leader is more respected.

And similarly:

  • A humble employee will be more willing (and in most cases, keen) to develop skills they are aware they don’t currently have.
  • A humble employee won’t cause upset in an existing team.
  • A humble employee is more able to learn from others.
  • A humble employee is more willing to help others develop.
  • A humble employee is more likely to recognise that success is not solely defined by how much they earn.
  • A humble employee is more likely to take actions for the greater good.

BUT:

Like with most character traits, humility taken to excess is not something to be encouraged. That’s just annoying! Plus you can’t fake it if you don’t have it – there’s a particularly unpleasant Charles Dickens character called Uriah Heep whose false humility translates into servility and a hidden self-serving agenda.

In this day and age, self-promotion and bravado is often portrayed as the key to success, mistakenly badged under the label of ‘confidence’. Confidence is great – the security that comes with knowing your own worth and your capabilities can lead to great things. But humble people also ‘understand’ their own worth and their capabilities, and that self-awareness creates more opportunity for learning, collaboration and empathy. I’d encourage those interviewing to look for this character trait…..it’s vastly under-rated in my view.

So for the next 25 years (errr….I don’t think so), I for one will be aspiring to continue to be confidently humble, so I can continue to learn more about what makes people tick, and therefore, become both a better recruiter and a better employer.

Do you agree? What do you think is the character trait you most admire? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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