Does being humble lead to a mediocre career?

quantgrunt's picture
Rank: King Kong | 1,817

According to this NBC article, Draymond Green a star athlete states that to succeed in life (thereby succeeding in a career as well) a person must think that they are the best in what they want to succeed in ahead of time. The article cites research that backs this point up as well. I personally think that being overconfident would lead to a higher chance of failure but am interested to see if you all have experiences or just general thoughts that support either site of this debate.

Comments (23)

Jun 22, 2019

You can believe you're the best at everything but without telling everyone. Having an elevated level of personal value can help you get through difficult situations.

    • 1
Most Helpful
Jun 22, 2019

"Humility" or "humbleness" and all of the variations are among those tough words in the English language--their meaning is actually fairly nebulous.

Dictionary definition: "Humbleness is a quality of being modest or unpretentious [not attempting to impress others with an appearance of greater importance, talent, or culture than is actually possessed]."

Here's an interesting article about humility from a Biblical perspective:

https://www.seedbed.com/why-pride-is-not-the-oppos...
This article points out that the dictionary definition of humility (not presenting yourself as great or lessening yourself) is actually false humility from a Biblical perspective. From a Biblical perspective, humility is putting the needs of others ahead of yourself--it's selflessness. In other words, the opposite of humility is selfishness.

Selfishness can definitely HELP your career in certain narrow circumstances. Selfishness as a lifestyle will rarely payoff as a career strategy. The more friends and allies you have the more likely you are to succeed. Selfish people do not have many real friendships or true allies. Selfless people are well liked and well respected. Dictionary definition "humble" people (falsely humble) may be well liked but are not well respected. So yes, I believe people who exhibit false humility will set back their careers and those who exhibit true humility will be helped in the long run.

Jun 24, 2019
real_Skankhunt42:

This article points out that the dictionary definition of humility (not presenting yourself as great or lessening yourself) is actually false humility from a Biblical perspective.

Amen. It is also outrageously annoying in real life. If you do something great, and I go out of my way to tell you it's great, your "oh it's no big deal" hand wave isn't cute. Take pride in your work.

    • 1
Jun 24, 2019

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant is a great book that dives deeper into this. the book essentially says if you give too much you can $#%@ yourself over, but givers can also be the biggest winners in the long run.

Funniest
Jun 25, 2019

I'm sure the founders of KKR were selfless.

    • 3
    • 1
Jun 23, 2019

I have put a lot of thought about how important it is to believe you are the best and the values of being outwardly confident and vocal in your abilities and ultimately I agree with Draymond.

The biggest danger and trait most associated with outward confidence is overconfidence in that you are operating in a new situation as if you already know what you're doing even if you don't. This can be a huge issue because you do not understand what is important (because you don't know the key factors that drive the best or worst outcomes) and you likely won't improve (because you aren't paying attention closely to the importance you placing on various inputs and how that affects different outputs).

The values of outward confidence are not nearly as well documented and might at this point be underrated. The biggest benefit of believing you are the best is it creating a virtuous self reinforcing loop - you work hard because you want to be the best, you become more confident in your abilities and create better outcomes, the better results drive you to work harder and improve. This sequence compounds and compels you to work on little things others might ignore.

The added benefit of being outwardly confident (assuming you actually have worked hard and have experience in the activity you are competing in) is that you put that view or perception of yourself and your performance into other's eyes. Even if you are not quite there yet, it elevates you and gives you that stage/opportunity to prove it versus others who are afraid to go out of the way to talk up their abilities. Like it or not, you put yourself in that conversation for others and that association is worth the downside if you can't perform. Additionally I would argue that when things go wrong, it typically brings a backlash and criticism (some of it fair and worth analyzing) that act as phenomenal fuel for you to get back to work when you lose.

    • 3
Jun 24, 2019
quantgrunt:

According to this https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/30/draymond-green-the... NBC article, Draymond Green a star athlete states that to succeed in life (thereby succeeding in a career as well) a person must think that they are the best in what they want to succeed in ahead of time. The article cites research that backs this point up as well. I personally think that being overconfident would lead to a higher chance of failure but am interested to see if you all have experiences or just general thoughts that support either site of this debate.

I think there is a solid difference between overconfidence and an abundance of confidence. Overconfidence, by definition, implies confidence to the point of it being harmful.

Thinking "I'm fucking smart" can be helpful, because inevitably life will get you down and there will be no one to offer you affirmations and you either get beaten down by it or overcome it. Having a strong belief in your own abilities in the face of crisis is incredibly beneficial. Many entrepreneurs fail multiple times before succeeding.

"I'm the smartest person there is" or "I'm so smart that it's impossible to make mistakes" is overconfidence because there are inherent negatives with those mindsets. It's never impossible to make mistakes, for instance.

Draymond thinking he's the best defensive player in the league right now or whatever doesn't have real negatives, so it's not overconfident. It's just confident enough.

    • 4
Jun 24, 2019
  1. In your average F500, unless you have a particularly good boss, being too humble will hold you back. There are always people willing to take credit for your work & perception is unfortunately 80% of the fight - Moreover, unless you're in a very quant-heavy role that is all about results, there is a lot of stepping-up that is needed. As a self-effacing, behind the scenes person, you won't get those chances to show your worth.
  2. Over-confidence paired with relentless hardwork may yield good results because as someone pointed above, it becomes confidence due to a repeating cycle of "I can do this" => "work hard towards it" => "get results". However, being too overconfident leads to self-delusion and failure. Note that Draymond thinks he's the best defender in the league, something that's reasonable. He does not think he's on the level of Lebron as a player - all time though. That's what I call "reasonable overconfidence". Bring me to my final point
  3. A measure of confidence and humility is needed to succeed in the long run. The answer is in the middle, as per usual in life.
Jun 24, 2019
numbermassager:
  1. Over-confidence paired with relentless hardwork may yield good results because as someone pointed above, it becomes confidence due to a repeating cycle of "I can do this" => "work hard towards it" => "get results". However, being too overconfident leads to self-delusion and failure. Note that Draymond thinks he's the best defender in the league, something that's reasonable. He does not think he's on the level of Lebron as a player - all time though. That's what I call "reasonable overconfidence". Bring me to my final point

The issue is that different careers/stages of a career call for different attitudes. If you're grinding your way up a corporate ladder, then being confident and cocky is great (assuming your work product supports it) because that's how you get noticed and promoted. Assuming you're the best at what you do is good to help you stand out and have the mental fortitude to keep plugging away. If you're in any kind of leadership role, though, it's awful, because that is when you should be listening to others and assuming that there is something you don't know.

    • 3
Jun 24, 2019

Good points, I agree

Jun 24, 2019

Thanks for all the replies so far. I am curious whether anyone has specific life experiences (say involving a specific project at work or home that sides with either side of the debate)

Array

Jun 25, 2019

This might still be a little vague, but specific to my career and my experiences.

I've always taken a fairly humble stance publicly. I make sure I put out a very good work product and do everything necessary for the job without making a big deal of it publicly. However, privately I always have good conversations with my boss about what I've done and what I need to do to advance. I've never pushed for advancement that I didnt deserve, but I've always advocated for myself getting what I do deserve. I've also always had great relationships with my bosses, which helps a lot.

One of the most important conversations I had in my career was when I was a Sr. Analyst. I was probably 27 or 28, which would've been young for a Manager at my previous co (F500). My boss gave me the feedback that I've done very well and could probably move into almost any open SFA position I wanted and set myself up for a Manager role after that. The conversation then went as follows:

Boss: We usually look for a little more experience before making manager
Me: I understand that, but what do I need to work on beyond years of experience to show I can be a manager?
Boss: Really nothing, you've done a great job
Me: Then that will be hard for me to accept
Boss: Yeah, I understand and it's difficult for me to critique you, but I'm also trying to be honest.
Me: I understand that and I appreciate the honesty, but I don't see another Sr. Analyst job that would be very developmental for me. Without a reason why I couldn't, I'd really like to pursue Manager roles.

6 months later I was a manager. I'm now multiple promotions later and that was the hardest I've had to work to get a promotion. My career path has worked out pretty well for me and I think back to the fact that if I didn't get this early promotion it all would've been very different.

twitter: @CorpFin_Guy

    • 5
Jun 25, 2019

+1 SB.

I agree with being perceived as humble to your peers and having open and honest conversations with your boss. That coupled with asking what you could do to become manager rather than asking for the promotion I think is always well received.

Changing "I deserve X." with "What can I do to receive X?" has benefited me greatly. S/O Dale Carnegie.

Jun 25, 2019

Confidence =/ arrogance

    • 1
Jun 25, 2019

I think that great people are going to on average think that they are great, because they are. Same with those who are just good. Or even plain old better-than-average. And that can come across as being "overconfident" to a lot of other people, because if Mr. Average sees Mr. Good saying "I think I am good", then Mr. Average is gonna think that Mr. Good is being overconfident, while in actuality Mr. Good is just being accurate.

Jun 25, 2019

Does anyone have a good system (?) for toeing the line between confidence and arrogance? I've noticed I usually stay quiet if I know the answer to something for fear of coming off arrogant and that's a habit I would like to change.

Jun 25, 2019

Well, let's say there is some sort of skill you have at your job. Ideally, in your past experience, you've seen how well other people do at this Skill X. You should position yourself based on your understanding of how much you know about Skill X vs others (in your department, company, country, planet, solar system...).

A bunch of people trying to solve a problem don't want some idiot to suggest a dumb idea while the smart guy sitting in the same room stays quiet. While unpleasant, it's probably better to risk being the dumb idiot and have someone swat you down for your idea than to be the quiet smart guy. Just talk nicely and politely -- is all. Back up your assertion with evidence if warranted. How could someone take that as arrogance?

    • 2
Jun 25, 2019

Thanks for the advice. +1

    • 1
Jun 25, 2019

If you are really worried, and honestly since you are asking i doubt you have to, I'd focus on a few things.

Watch your cadence - how you say something is almost as, if not more important, that what you say.

Try and avoid qualifiers - they can come off wrong, like, 'This is just my opinion' or 'You all may know better than I' or my favorite 'I'm just an XXXXX so what do i know, but'. There's nothing inherently wrong with these, but, see above point about cadence.

Time your response - don't immediately answer. Consider the question, think about your answer, fake it if you have to, and then proceed to answer. If you dive in immediately, or worse cut the person off, that's not good. Also don't drone on for 30 minutes if the answer requires a 1 minute response... that never goes well.

Overall, arrogance to me is not accepting feedback, disrespecting other opinions, putting people down or making them feel like idiots, etc.

    • 3
Jun 25, 2019

Thanks for the response. Very interesting that you mentioned qualifiers. I've noticed more recently that when I do speak up, I find myself using them. I'll try and limit that/be more confident in my answers going forward. Good advice. +1

Jun 25, 2019
Comment
    • 1