Question: How to teach humility to younger employees?

I am interested in finding a way to build humility among the millennial tech generation.

I work with many of these dynamic, really smart, younger technology professionals who lack humility and have unrealistic expectations... which makes them difficult to embrace and work with effectively.

I want to be able to teach them the importance of being humble and how it can help them achieve their aspirations in the longer term.

6 Expert Insights

Great question and challenge. First, let's be honest. Millennials are not more cocky than previous generations; they are not afraid to express it. You teach humility by practicing it. Look to your own behavior. Do you engage in conversations in which you do not know the answers? Do you allow others to express their points of view? Do you accept ideas and suggestions different from your own?

Understand also that these folks did not get to where they are now by being humble. Likely they were successful individual contributors. Now in the workplace you need to teach them to be part of a team.

Describe what it means to be part of team, how people work together because it is the only way to get things done right. Teamwork also means people help one another. And when teammates do not embrace teamwork, they are asked to leave the team.

As for respecting humility, establish it as a norm in your business. Make it known that you expect people to work cooperatively and collaboratively with one another. Those who do not embrace these principles may not be right for your team.

It's difficult, unless something drastic happens. Sometimes repetitive coaching or counseling helps, or putting them down in a positive way whenever they are arrogant,  If they have the courage to examine themselves honestly. there is a 9-day course that gives them tools to become much more effective employees. With those tools, they can decide to be humble and will be that way.

The best way to teach is by example! The young people are not different than we were when we were the same age. Sharing with them our own experiences and difficulties will help them understand what it means to be part of the team, and humble.

Ivan is on the right track. Tell your (life) story truthfully. Not the idealized one, but the real one.

We have experienced a number of coaching clients with excessive ego issues. (In all cases, they were older employees and leaders in the organization. So, my comments may not be relevant to your question.)
In most organizational cultures, these behaviors can be destructive to the individual and the team and are certainly a derailer if the individual wants upward mobility. In general, people who fail to show humility are not trusted and trust is a huge requirement of respected leaders.
We think a heavy hammer is required to get the attention of people lacking humility. We do not use subtlety.
We generally follow the following steps:
1) Create awareness of the specific behaviors that demonstrate a lack of humility.
2) Tell them how stupid these behaviors are & how it undermines individual & team effectiveness as well as their own potential for advancement.
3) Tell them what to stop doing as well as what to start doing.
4) Follow up - recognize improvement & point out failures.

Millennials aren't really more cocky or disrespectful than other generations. Remember the Boomers saying, "You can't trust anyone over 30"? The generation gap has never really left us. I'm part of Gen X. I came out of school thinking I knew better than some of the people who were my managers.

You know what? In some ways I was right. I remember speaking to one of the VP of Sales at the first company I worked for. I told him I wanted to learn Mandarin because China would become an economic superpower and I said that India represented a massive opportunity for economic development. He vehemently disagreed, saying that the then formed EU was the true economic opportunity that industry should focus on. I wish that discussion was an actual monetary wager because I would now be retired and relaxing on a beach.

My point is this, those youngsters may have very valid ideas and might have better ideas than their older teammates. If you treat them as a source of innovation and approach them as a servant-leader/mentor you will gain their respect. Press home the idea that you want them to be contributors to the success and future leaders of the organization. These "kids" have a huge amount of energy and desire for recognition. Harness that.

Here are some steps that can help you foster a dialogue and shape some behaviors:
1. Make sure that your culture actively rewards and recognizes respect for coworkers, humility and collaboration.
2. Identify an issue within the company that could use some fresh perspective. Form a task force around it comprised of those millennials and an older leader who can help them get their solution to the issue reviewed and implemented. This will give them a sense of ownership in the organization and help satisfy some of that millennial desire to be recognized.
3. Immediately address negative behavior in private. Praise positive behavior publicly.
4. Provide a forum where young teammates can voice opinions and talk to the organization’s leaders.