As a new year begins, most of us are focused on the resolutions we’ve chosen to pursue. While 2016 is still relatively fresh, you might want to consider adding one — probably unexpected — goal to perennial favorites like losing weight or getting your finances in order: becoming more humble.
Why? Larger-than-life egos are fast becoming liabilities, not the signs of strength and leadership they once were. Indeed, in what may first appear to be a paradox, ego’s mortal enemy — humility — is one of the traits most likely to guarantee success in the 21st century workplace.
In the tech tsunami of the next few decades, robots and smart machines are projected to take over more than half of U.S. jobs. The jobs that will still be “safe” involve higher-order cognitive and emotional skills that technology can’t replicate, like critical thinking, innovation, creativity, and emotionally engaging with other humans. All of those skills have one thing in common: They are enabled by humility.
Skeptical? Ask yourself this: Have you ever met someone with a big ego who was really good at being open-minded? Really good at reflectively listening? At putting himself in another’s shoes? At playing well with others? At saying, “I don’t know,” “Your idea is better than mine,” or, “You’re right”? Didn’t think so.
Clearly, if you want to be an effective leader (or even a successful employee) in 2016 and beyond, you are going to have to rein in your ego and become more team-oriented. And make no mistake: It won’t be easy.
We’re talking about self-work that’s never finished. For one thing, ego-based thinking is our brain’s default position — we naturally seek to reinforce what we already think we know. Also, we have to overcome a lifetime of cultural and behavioral big-ego conditioning. But if we’re to stay competitive in the Smart Machine Age, it has to happen!
Here are seven suggestions to help you hone your humility this year:
1. First, know that you’ll have to work against your brain’s natural inclinations.
Quieting our egos actually goes against our very natures! Cognitively, we humans are wired to selectively process only information that is confirmatory — and to selectively filter out information that contradicts what we “know” to be “right.” In addition, we’re lazy, self-serving, and emotionally defensive thinkers who are driven to protect our egos.
However, the science is quite clear that high-level and innovative thinking is a team sport. In order to learn, adapt, and succeed, we have to be willing to look closely at our mistakes and failures, to really listen to people who disagree with us, and to allow the best thinking and best ideas to rise to the top — which requires humility. The good news is, when it comes to resisting your thinking’s natural defenses, forewarned is forearmed.
2. Seek objective feedback about your ego.
You can’t troubleshoot your ego if you don’t have an accurate picture of what it looks like. Since this isn’t an area in which you can trust your own judgment, have the courage to get people who know you well at work and in your personal life to fill out a 360-degree review about you — one that focuses on your emotional intelligence and your behaviors concerning open-mindedness, listening, empathy, humility, etc.
Explain why you need honest answers. Emphasize how appreciative you will be if they are honest and that candor will not diminish the relationship.
After receiving the data, evaluate it with a trusted other. Thank everyone who had the courage to give you honest feedback. Reflect on the picture you received and decide what you want to do with that data.
See also: 10 secrets to success
3. Change your mental model of what “smart” looks like.
In the past, “smartness” has been determined by the size of one’s body of knowledge. Not knowing the “right” answer was — and often still is — a big blow to the ego. But today we already have instant access to all the knowledge we want, thanks to “companions” like Google and Siri. The “new smart” means knowing what you don’t know and knowing how to learn it, being able to ask the right questions, and being able to examine the answers critically.
As the legendary hedge fund investor Ray Dalio said, “We are all dumb s*!ts.” We are all suboptimal thinkers. Only those of us who can graciously and humbly admit that we don’t know it all will succeed in this new world.
So change how you keep score. Engage in collaboration, seek out feedback, and ask for help daily. That will push you toward developing the humility and empathy you’ll need to “win” in the new game.