The Power of Humility: Key to Success in the Modern Work Environment


Circumstances of life, a few days ago one of the team’s collaborators had to stop working with us and has started a new stage of his professional life in a new team, a new situation and many doubts about the future. And at this point in his life we ​​were sitting down to talk about how to deal with all these changes and we came to a somewhat tricky subject. Someone who already has four years of experience, who comes from a large company, who has learned a lot in these years and has had to deal with people of all kinds… should he present himself in his new position with a “low profile”? But with a view to their future professional development… Do low profiles succeed or do they end up “eating their snot”? Is humility always a virtue? Or should the “low profile” be a mode that we must know how to activate and deactivate at certain times?

Defining the “low profile”.

The first topic that we came across in our talk was how we defined that “low profile” and always arrived at a set of characteristics or behaviors that had to be fulfilled in those first days in your new job:

  • Not attract attention
  • Be flexible
  • Work well as a team
  • Be humble and modest about past accomplishments (we over self)

Be very open to “positive” collaboration, learning from everyone and contributing what you can.
Preparing this article I have been able to calmly read what is defined as “low profile”. I read in a blog that “People who have a low profile do not usually attract general attention. They are not characterized by being the center of attention.” Or the opinion of Santiago Álvarez de Mon in an article in El País in which he pointed out that “a person with a low profile is discreet, not at all self-centered, who knows how to work in a team, who does not need the spotlight to motivate himself… He is a figure to to protect”.

The truth is that reading this, one has little doubt that the normal correct way to enter a new job is by showing this “low profile”. But… should we always maintain this attitude? Or should we be able to play with this attribute? Do we have to learn to show our “high profile” from time to time?

Success and low profile.

One looks around to see if there are in your environment, or in society in general, people who, most of the time showing a low profile, have come a long way and whose trajectory can be considered successful. And it is true that we have several examples where we can show that “low profile” does not mean being far from success. In the world of football, the closest example may be that of Vicente del Bosque, who with that low profile has even had the title of Nobleman of Spain. But in private companies and in the business world we can talk, and I think it is an example known in almost the whole world too, of Amancio Ortega, the founder of Zara, who is known for his aversion to cameras, to going out in the newspapers and to flaunt their wealth. It is not the only case, true, but we can contrast it with the success of other people who want to be much more media and make themselves more noticeable (How would the case of Elon Musk be?).

In my opinion, “low profile” people like to succeed with the results in their pocket and their success also stays with them. That is to say, they do not make themselves known until the results arrive and when the results arrive they do not shout them from the rooftops, but rather they covertly raise their hands in a corner and then claim what may seem fair to them.

And from my experience I have the impression that this is not the behavior that implies the highest levels of return or the best results. The Spanish proverb says that “he who does not cry does not suck” in reference to babies, because to get recognition in your job the same thing can happen. I was thinking of examples to be able to show successful careers with low and high profiles compared; and given that the example of soccer players with worldwide success at this time may be too provocative (for which we are going to force a debate between the profiles of Messi or CR7 and their successes – in the 2014/15 season Messi scored 58 goals for Barça and CR7 61 with Madrid) I am going to go to a sport that raises fewer passions: tennis and just in case with an example of a generation already retired.

A few years ago the king of the courts was Pete Sampras, an American tennis player with a lower profile than his great rival on the courts and in television minutes, André Agassi. First with her long hair and her extensions and with her colored clothes that broke the Wimbledon schemes; then with his bald spot and his successful comebacks after a few months of absence. Pete Sampras won more Grand Slam tournaments and, although he never completed the 4 Grand Slams, something his rival did, he was quite possibly a better tennis player than Agassi. But there is no doubt that André Agassi was the media tennis player of the moment and until very recently he was still the image of a brand of razor blades.
Oh, and to clarify a concept. Having a high profile does not necessarily imply being a borderline or disliking people. Agassi aroused passions, Mourinho was called “The Special One”, Elon Musk is admired… just in case.

Humility is overrated.

So we come to the conclusion that success is not impossible with a low profile, although it makes it more difficult. Therefore, we will also have to know how we can turn this attitude around. And remembering past readings this phrase came to mind, “humility is overrated”. With her I tried to find arguments to take a step forward and abandon this attitude that sometimes becomes even submissive.

In the first of them, Andrés Pérez Ortega, an in-depth connoisseur of personal brand issues, points out that “if you are so modest and humble that no one finds out that you exist, you may go to heaven, but few will be able to benefit from your value.” Come on, “buenrollismo” is fine, but from time to time you have to put your arguments (your work) on the table and make them count.

The other article is by Francisco Alcaide, in his blog, pointing out that: “The problem is not virtue (humility, which is highly recommended) but its “excess” or “defect””. In other words, the same as the absence of humility can even lead us to experience unpleasant situations with a partner of this type; Excessive humility is also negative and would lead us back to the situation described by Andrés.

In short, it is a gerund.

Come on, after our various talks on the subject we came to the conclusion that the best thing, as we said before, was to go low profile. Basically for a simple reason, it was what our partner’s way of being represented. The colleague was not exactly the Mourinho of the area, looking much more like the Del Bosque of the area, but with a record of successes yet to be completed… So doing it in any other way could result in a disaster of incalculable magnitude.

But what is true is that we both have the duty to learn to be more proud of our work; value it in its proper measure and learn to value it in future situations.

And you? Are you low profile? High? Do you consider any of the two advantageous? Or do you consider them negative? Have you ever found someone high-profile trampling on your career? I await your opinions.
This article was first published in “Working that is a gerund” on July 21, 2015 and has been republished for n5now on February 24, 2021.

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