Humility speaks volumes, even when it says nothing at all.
Case in point: Employees surveyed by the University of Washington prefer working with leaders who take a “quieter” approach than those who are less humble. This more measured, humble approach is said to breed trust, employee engagement, and receptivity to the leader’s ideas.
Humility has guided not only my entrepreneurial endeavors but also my nonprofit efforts.
For profit-centric executives, tying humility into a giving approach can help establish a stronger connection with others. Listening, understanding, and expecting nothing in return positions you as a trusted servant and leader. That means rather than trying to dominate or profit, you’re simply there with open arms for whatever the recipient needs.
But it can be a challenge to even think about giving back when you’re trying to scale a business and support your employees. It’s important to find a place to start.
Giving Better Means Staying Grounded
The work my company, MEBO International, performed alongside the Clinton Global Initiative completely reframed how I envisioned giving, opening my eyes to a smarter and more effective philanthropic philosophy. Instead of focusing on maximizing profits and hitting targets, we focused on maximizing the value of our efforts for the communities and individuals we worked with. I learned that giving with humility meant feeling grateful for just the ability to give and positively affect the bigger picture that touches us all.
Putting others over oneself can yield a seismic shift in one’s approach to giving back. Here are three lessons my time with CGI taught me about giving humbly:
1.- Never lose sight of the big picture. Giving projects often suffer from narrow-mindedness and siloed thinking. When obstacles or differences of opinion arise, these projects can lose forward momentum. To turn giving into a sustainable, productive undertaking, keep your initiative’s big vision at the forefront.
With CGI, we used big-picture thinking to create programs designed to address wide-ranging, complex problems. For example, the organization established a partnership with The Food Security Genome as a way to display its new commitment to food security programs. The initiative took a big-picture approach by trawling through the universe of data around food security programs, then using that breadth of evidence to paint a clearer picture for programs of which benchmarks to hit and how to improve.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of giving, but don’t let that stop you from accomplishing the goals you set out to meet. Keep the big picture top of mind in your giving efforts.
2.- Step back and listen. Humility is not only a behavior, but it’s a method of communication. An important part of humility in giving is listening and observing rather than simply proposing a solution. Position yourself as available and engaged, but let others be the first to talk; hear the way they describe what they need before you propose action.
With CGI, we had the complex and challenging goal of training 20,000 doctors every year to eventually help burn victims in geographic areas needing medical professionals. We didn’t do this by storming into hospitals and insisting on educating doctors; we did it by representing ourselves as mission-driven partners there to enhance the educational practices that were already in hospitals. This stance positioned us as trusted advisors. From there, we could collaborate with practitioners for the good of their patients.
Though it’s tempting to offer a resolution as soon as possible, be willing to listen first. Chances are high that you’ll stumble across said solution if you keep your ears open.
3.- Don’t try to change the world all at once. When giving becomes part of your mission, find concrete, realistic ways to help others. Avoid projects and ideas that are vague, idealistic, or too grand in scope; real change comes from small steps in the right direction, rather than grand gestures.
When my company wanted to bring our Moist Exposed Burn Therapy to people across China, we took carefully thought-out steps. First, we partnered with an organization, the China Association of Integrative Medicine, that could help. Once that partnership was in place, we identified trainers in each province who could assist us in delivering training sessions.
The result? MEBO now conducts 500 free training sessions a month in clinics and schools. Run by local experts, the program is manageable and sustainable at the community level. Find partners who can bear some of the load as you put your giving approach into practice.
Humility is a key — and surprisingly overlooked — principle of giving back. A humble giving mode is all about shifting your mindset, stepping back, and leading with listening. It’s this humble approach that has allowed CGI to help so many people and innovate true and long-term solutions to problems.
Actions truly do speak louder than words. Let your humble giving approach be your voice.
Photo: Getty Images