How can you measure humility and how do you compare?

Part 3 of the Series: The humble and powerful leader
Now surely you want to know where you, your employees or your boss stand on the humility scale.
As you may imagine, it is not particularly helpful to ask someone, "Excuse me, are you somewhat humble, medium humble, or very humble?" or, "Excuse me, your boss, is he actually humble? On a scale of 1 to 10?"

Thanks to the previous post you now know that humility is about knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, appreciating others, being willing to learn and seeing that you are only a small part of a much larger picture. But do others know that too? Do they have the same understanding?

Surely not. One person may think of humility in terms of being humbled and weak. Then he may give a weak manager a 5 on a five-point scale, i.e. he will rate him as humble, even though that manger is not humble according to the definition. The other thinks of humility as being over-modest and rates her own manager very poorly because she leads the team clearly and with good self-confidence. One manager may be equipped with a lot of humility, sees what is missing in himself and therefore gives himself worse marks than the one who thinks she is the best there is, completely overestimates herself and therefore sees herself as the humblest being under the sun.

How can anyone make a reasonable assessment of who is humble and how much?

Research is always excited and burgeoning when things are complex, and as a consequence has, in recent years, developed a total of 22 questionnaires in order to make the subject tangible and measurable.

Which of these 22 is the best? Clearly those that do not include the word "humility". How much better is a questionnaire that asks about those behaviors, that make up humility, without using the word itself. It then makes no difference what the respondents' own perception of the word is, they are simply asked about that which they can easily observe.

That is, we look at how much someone knows and can admit their own strengths and weaknesses; how much someone appreciates and values others; how much someone is open and willing to learn; and how much someone can see the bigger picture.

Secondly, of course, those questionnaires are helpful that you do not (only) complete on your own, but also are completed by those people who see and experience you on a day-to-day basis. Why? Because, sadly, it is normal for us to think that we are humble, while others simply cannot perceive this.

What I am looking for is offered by a questionnaire developed by the American professor Bradley Owens, the so-called "Expressed humility Scale", supplemented by some questions developed by the Chinese professor Amy Ou. This gives us a total of 12 questions, which should be filled in by yourself as well as others.

This is the ideal version. But what do you do if your company does not appreciate such an open approach? If your company lacks the culture for it, or if you are simply uncomfortable giving the questionnaire to your employees? Then there is a trick to get halfway reliable results for yourself.

Let us take the first statement of the questionnaire:

"I actively seek feedback, even if it is critical". What grade do you give yourself there on a scale of 1 - 5? Where 1 stands for "Do not agree at all" and 5 for "Strongly agree".

Again the statement: "I actively seek feedback, even if it is critical". So what do you give yourself?

In fact, most people give themselves a good grade, because in this day and age of official feedback culture, everyone is aware that he or she should ask for feedback, and many people actually want to do this.

Ideally, you would now be able to match your score against the statements of your employees, colleagues and the supervisor. But if you dislike doing that for the above reasons, or simply lack the time to do it, you can use the following trick.

Imagine your three closest employees standing in the cafeteria with a few colleagues as well as your boss. They have just started a conversation on the topic of feedback and one of them says: What do you think. On a scale of 1 to 5, what do we as a group think of X (i.e., you): does he/she seek feedback, even if it's critical?

Now think about these people and what they would give you as a grade. And presto, most managers rate themselves significantly lower than they did in the initial self-assessment. Why?

Because the moment you think about it, you realize that maybe you frequently ask for feedback, but only from this one colleague. Or that you only ask your boss once a year during the bonus discussion to tell you how he or she sees you.

Also, you may notice that you have helped create an atmosphere in which only positive things are said. Everyone praises each other and no one brings up a criticism. This may be lovely for the working atmosphere, but leads to much being swept under the carpet and improvements not being demanded.

So if you picture the people close to you in your work and think about what rating they give to the statement, then you are getting much nearer to how humble you are really perceived.

What grade have you given yourself? In the two versions? Once first gut feeling and then the second from a kind of fictitious mini-survey.

You can now match this number against more than 1.500 participants who evaluated their direct manager. Of those, almost fifty percent say their manager fails to ask for feedback even when it is critical. Forty percent of participants "somewhat" agree that their manager looks for feedback, with only around 10 percent doing so "very strongly."

Where did you rank yourself?

There are 11 other statements to complete the picture. All of these statements have been validated by researchers in dozens of studies and tested for internal consistency.

Other statements are, for example: "I often compliment others on their strengths" or "I am open to the advice of others" or "I see myself as a small part of a larger whole".

Again, you can go over in your mind where you see yourself on a scale of 1 to 5 and where those around you may see you.

An average value is then formed from the 12 ratings - this is the total humility score. In the more than 1.500 participants from study, only just under 35 percent get a better total average score of more than 4 - that is, a "Agree" or "Strongly Agree." Only 35 percent of manages therefore can be described as humble in the real sense of the word.

This is a sad result. And if you look at the difference to the self-assessment, the issue of hubris and overconfidence is clearly an issue. More than 80 percent of those surveyed see themselves as humble. Yet as we have seen, only 35 percent of employees agree – what a huge delta.

How can it be that external and self-perception diverge so dramatically? There's something very human about it - most of us actually want to achieve the best. We want to be strong and also show weaknesses. We want to appreciate others, be open and put ourselves in perspective.

Unfortunately, everyday life gets in the way and we often do not take the time for all of this. In addition, managers also have a problem with quantity. What do I mean by that? Let us assume that you manage 10 employees. And every week in the meeting you appreciate two of them. And during the week you always ask one for individual feedback. There you get the feeling of constantly being out there praising and asking. Praising and asking. But your employees will say: Every 5 weeks she sees what I do and just once a quarter I am asked for feedback. The consequence: your humility scores will be awful.

So the question for the next posts will be how you can succeed in seeing yourself more clearly and not falling prey to the typical stumbling blocks when it comes to humility. How can you ensure that more employees find it in them to perceive you as humble. If indeed, you want to be humble after all!

This is what the next blogs/podcasts are for, to show what positive effects humility has for you, the manager, your employees and your organisation. And this will hopefully convince you that humility is the basis for powerful leadership!

One more point: If you are interested in trying out the questionnaire in its entire length and matching it against my database or actually organizing a sort of 360 within your company, please feel free to contact me.

Have a great humility-filled week!