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Work hard, stay humble

Being humble isn’t commonly considered a desirable trait in the competitive working world. It’s sometimes even seen as a sign of weakness in Western cultures, which encourage individuals to pursue their own destiny both in their professional and personal lives.

Yet ‘being humble’ is a core value at American online retailer Zappos. They deliberately avoid hiring employees who can’t check their egos as the door – no matter how much value they could add to the bottom line.

Zappos colleagues chose ‘being humble’ after their CEO Tony Hseih decided to crowdsource the brand’s core values. He engaged all colleagues to make sure they played their part in defining the company’s 10 core values and that they weren’t imposed from the top down.

For the retailer, ‘being humble’ is seen as a way to protect the company’s culture; making sure that no individual disturbs Zappos’ unique atmosphere. It’s also a way of encouraging open-mindedness and a willingness to learn. In keeping with this spirit, all Zappos colleagues have access to inspiring development courses and the Zappos library.

In fact, Zappos are so confident in their culture, they publish a ‘culture book’ co-created by employees. The book gives colleagues the chance to say what Zappos working culture means to them – and it’s completely honest and unedited.


Confidence vs certainty

The surprising thing is that confidence and ‘being humble’ aren’t regarded as a natural pairing. But the two concepts don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

‘Confidence’ is a term which really means ‘poise’ or ‘self-assurance’, but perhaps in the business world it gets misconstrued with ‘certainty’, which has a completely different meaning – a foregone conclusion has been reached, that something is a sure bet.

Naturally, the best business leaders are expected to display ‘confidence’, but a good leader also has the confidence to be humble. They don’t exist in a world of certainty, so must avoid being hard-headed or stubborn; they must listen to their team’s expertise when making big decisions.

By living the value ‘be humble’ and having the confidence to hear what others are saying, business leaders can make better, more well-informed decisions. They can open themselves to the art of what’s possible and what isn’t. This doesn’t mean refusing to stand firm when the occasion demands it, but it does mean having the confidence to believe in others’ ability.

Those leaders that embody confidence rather than certainty also empower their team, allowing them take ownership and be accountable for the future success of the organisation. For Millennials this sense of adding value while having purpose has never been more important.

Unlike previous generations, those born between 1980 and 1995 prefer to be part of something bigger at work, with money being somewhat secondary. They also want to feel valued and that their opinions matter.

That’s why it’s important that leaders are capable of ‘being humble’ and having the confidence to really listen to their wider team. Because if not, their young team can and will go elsewhere.


Get in touch if you’ve been inspired by Zappos and think crowdsourcing could work in your organisation!