Humility Is an Undersung Leadership Skill. Adam Grant Says These 2 Interview Questions Screen for It 

In life it’s often those who toot their own horn the loudest who draw the most attention, but an absolute mountain of evidence shows that humility is actually an essential skill for great leadership. Academic studies show staying humble helps us learn more quickly and that teams of humble leaders tend to perform better. Jeff Bezos has even cited intellectual humility as his top sign of true intelligence. 

Which means if you’re hiring for any sort of leadership position, you’re going to want to assess the ability of candidates to empower others, acknowledge their own limitations, and learn from errors. But while screening for applicants’ willingness to trumpet their accomplishments is easy, how do you get at a quieter trait like humility? 

Wharton professor and best-selling author Adam Grant has a couple of ideas. As part of a long roundup from First Round Review of top startup leaders’ advice on how to screen for subtle but essential skills when hiring , Grant shared a pair of questions targeted specifically at assessing humility and the capacity to be a team player. 

“Who do you owe your success to?”

What are you listening for when you ask this one? “What differentiates a faker from a truly humble person is often that the fakers are really focused on impressing you and managing up and kissing up. So they will name people above them in the hierarchy,” Grant explains. Better answers skip this name dropping in favor of whole hearted credit sharing. 

Also, keep an eye on pronouns. The more times you hear ‘I’ and ‘me,’ the less likely it is that the candidate is a true team player. The more you hear ‘we’ and ‘us,’ the more likely it is you’re speaking to a truly humble person. 

“Who have you learned the most from in your career?”

Again, citing Nelson Mandela or their last boss doesn’t win candidates points here. You’re looking for folks who are capable of learning not just from bigwigs and luminaries but from folks from all walks of life. 

“Humble people recognize you can learn from anyone and everyone,” Grant says. “Take the student who was admitted to Yale and who asked his school’s janitor to write his recommendation letter. The appreciation and curiosity that the student showed towards somebody who’s literally at the bottom of the totem pole in that high school. That’s humility.”

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