• Michael Padilla-Pagan Pay

Humility: What is needed to work and understand the ground

During a talk with new customer about our work in hostile environments and locations, I can see the customer assumes an image of a warrior, traversing through hostile fire, ready to shoot, as our solution. While this image makes for box-office Hollywood chart-toppers, it is not the reality on the ground. So dear customer, while confidence is important in our role, it is humility that keeps confidence from becoming bravado, and ultimately keeps things calm on the ground, and fosters and forges a relationship with the communities in our area of responsibility (AOR) .

During our training, whether for a local national (LN) or expat, we give a class on Combat Mindset (yes, many EXPATS have had this training), in which one of the central tenants is: humility.

Now, this isn’t the sort of bashful, “I’m not worthy” sort of false humility that might immediately come to mind. As was said in that class, “Humility is truth.” It is recognizing both your strengths and your weaknesses. It is acknowledging that you don’t know everything, haven’t experienced everything, and can still learn from anyone.

How is humility an absolute requirement in working in a community and hostile environment? If one cannot acknowledge his weaknesses, he cannot successfully work to eliminate them. If one doesn’t think he has anything more to learn, he stops learning. And in the locations in which we operate, there is always room for increased learning, be it from the communities, the culture, the history, or social etiquettes. Really, we have no room for ego. For us, we use humility to be more effective in these six ways.

1. BE OPEN TO OTHERS’ OPINIONS

Seek input from others to ensure that you have all the facts and are making decisions that are in the best interest of the team. We instill in our teams that no one person has all the answers. If you think you do, then it’s probably time to reassess.

People want to work for people who value their opinions rather than ignore or dismiss them and especially in a hostile fluid environment. Effectively humble leaders are comfortable asking for input and can just as easily be decisive when the situation calls for it.

2. TEND TO OTHERS’ NEEDS

We have seen that our team performance is typically much higher when team members believe their leaders are truly looking out for their best interests. That doesn’t mean hand-holding, but it does mean caring about the environment in which your team is working and ensuring that they have what they need to do a good job.

While intelligence and skill are typically good predictors of team performance, we also say that the quality of humility–especially in a team’s leadership–can be a better performance predictor.

3. ADMIT MISTAKES

It’s tough to be more transparent and open–even those who consider themselves humble don’t want to look like they’ve messed up. But, as human beings we all make mistakes. When you’re willing to share your own missteps, and how you dealt with and recovered from them, you earn trust from your teams and the communities.

In working with customers, I always believe that we should own up to what we do. Sometimes it’s good to share that with others–that we’re not infallible.

4. ACCEPT AMBIGUITY

I have seen many people and ex-military leaders who want to control everything. But some things can’t be known up front or beforehand. You have to know when to take charge–or when to let go and not try to force everything to go your way, especially if an environment which is not like the military.  

Sometimes, it’s important to admit that you don’t know the best answer, and wait until you have the best information to make a decision or change. It is also a time to learn from your team and seek knowledge by engaging the local tribes or communities

5. SELF-REFLECT

Like many skills, humility is not easy to everyone. That’s why it’s important to engage in self-reflection as well as engage with your peers

There’s almost always room for improvement.

6. LET PEOPLE DO THEIR JOBS

I talk about this a lot, micromanaging kills morale–and it isn’t very humble. Choose good people, train them, then get out of the way and let them do their jobs. I believe it can take humility to admit that your way isn’t the only way or even that some people are better at certain roles than you. The humble leader accepts these truths and allows other’s strengths to work for the good of the team or organization without interference. When people are demonstrating these behaviors: self-awareness, perspective, openness to feedback and ideas, and appreciation of others–employees are saying: ‘Yes I’m happier in my job; I actually can perform at a higher level. Then you can see there is an association between the humble leadership behaviors and those outcomes.

At Al Thuraya Companies, we see that humility is truth. As risk and security providers in hostile areas, we exist in a realm of objective reality that doesn’t care about your ego. Failure to recognize the truth, i.e., what is real, can have lethal consequences in this line of work not only to you but your customer. 


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