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This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at

Humility is a key trait for leaders who want to improve the health, engagement and productivity of their employees. Why is this important? It's because employees feel confident and comfortable interacting with a manager or leader who regularly demonstrates humility.

Humility helps employees feel psychologically safe with their manager because they know that they will be treated fairly and honestly. In the context of an employee-manager relationship, humility includes not only a leader's words but also their non-verbal gestures and behaviours.

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Humility can be observed in a leader's ability to ask for feedback, show an interest in others' needs, be open to others' opinions, admit mistakes, accept uncertainty, and trust employees to do their jobs.

Being open to learn from criticism is at the core of humility and ultimately defines how much humility onlookers see, experience and believe a leader has. Employees want to be around and enjoy interacting with leaders who demonstrate humility.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, found in his research that executive leaders in the most successful companies all demonstrated humility. These leaders were regularly observed and known for giving credit to others and accepting blame. Mr. Collins and his team's study of companies' performance over 40 years highlighted the value and importance of humility and how this behaviour played a role in predicting which leaders would have the most success leading their employees.

Accepting versus placing blame may sound somewhat counterintuitive to new leaders, especially when they are trying to prove themselves and may be afraid to make mistakes. But leaders who are developing their humility are aware of, and accept, their strengths and weaknesses.

Leaders who demonstrate humility are by no means weak or pushovers. Those who demonstrate high degrees of humility are often also internally driven for excellence. They achieve positive financial results, are competitive, and are able to perform in high-stakes and fast-paced environments.

Leaders with a high degree of humility hold employees accountable. They typically do this in a respectful way and allow employees opportunities to own their behaviour and improve when possible.

Caring about what employees and peers think and say is a key element in demonstrating humility. So is checking your ego and your need to always be right.

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For a leader to adopt the daily practice of humility, and master this micro skill, they need to embrace the benefits for themselves and their employees.


In order to test your humility level, it is beneficial to get a baseline as to how comfortable you, as a leader, are at accepting criticism. One way to do this is to complete an activity called a 360 In Vivo. This activity challenges leaders to explore how comfortable they are with respect to giving and receiving feedback from others.

Once a manager is clear on the value of and their comfort level in receiving feedback, developing the micro skill of humility requires attention and intention. Here are three steps to help improve those traits:


Humility is dependent on a leader's self-awareness with respect to how they deal with and respond to day-to-day challenges and successes. The degree to which a leader accepts blame and gives credit to others influences how onlookers perceive them. Take time daily to be aware of how you handled any problems and successes and whether you gave credit where it was due, or accepted blame for any issues.

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This is the ability to catch and correct yourself and own your mistakes. Nobody is perfect. It's important to ensure that all employees are treated equally and provided with consistent praise and recognition when appropriate. Humility has no favourites; everyone is treated with the same fair and equal brush. Being a role model, owning and accepting responsibility for your behaviour can influence others to act similarly. Be aware of your actions as you take them and make adjustments quickly when needed.


Self-reflection at the start and end of the day will allow you to evaluate how effectively you, as a leader, were ready for the day and how well you did during the day. Only an individual leader will know if they consistently give credit where it's deserved and doesn't look to place blame. Instead, leaders with humility take responsibility when results are not achieved.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

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This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link:

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