Humility Is a Virtue, Says Marketing Guru Seth Godin

Author: Michelle Russell       

Michelle Russell

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I called Seth Godin —author of 18 bestsellers and the most popular marketing blog in the world — for our scheduled interview last month. I rarely use “guru” to describe anyone, but that’s not an exaggeration when it comes to Godin. So I was bracing myself for a conversation with someone at the other end of the phone who could turn out to be, well, kind of full of himself. But from the moment Godin answered my call, it was clear that he couldn’t have been more gracious and willing to take a deep dive into the business of live events. He shared insights from his brand-new book This Is Marketing that apply to our industry, in anticipation of his talk at PCMA Convening Leaders in Pittsburgh in January.

Godin authentically embodies what he says marketing should be: Unselfish. Real marketing is not about advertising, or racking up clicks, he says. It’s about connection, empathy, being of service, and making a difference. And isn’t that what we say events should be about?

I don’t know if you can imbue an event with those attributes if you don’t come from a place of humility. Lately, a stream of articles in the business media has identified humility as a top trait of effective leaders. A recent Wall Street Journal article, for example, cited humility as “a core quality of leaders who inspire close teamwork, rapid learning, and high performance in their teams, according to several studies in the past three years. Humble people tend to be aware of their own weaknesses, eager to improve themselves, appreciative of others’ strengths, and focused on goals beyond their own self-interest.”

Recognizing the value of those positive ripple effects, organizations are focusing on hiring talent who score high on this aspect of emotional intelligence. In fact, Hogan Assessments, a maker of workplace personality tests, is expecting to release a new 20-item scale early in 2019 to measure humility in those seeking leadership roles. Candidates will be asked to agree or disagree with such statements as, “I appreciate other people’s advice at work,” or “I’m entitled to more respect than the average person.”

“Most of the thinking suggests leaders should be charismatic, attention-seeking, and persuasive,” Ryne Sherman, Hogan’s chief science officer, told the Journal. “Yet such leaders tend to ruin their companies because they take on more than they can handle, are overconfident, and don’t listen to feedback from others.”

Some companies, taking the tack that humility is a skill that can be taught, are offering coaching. Taj Hotels, for instance, provides a nine-month training program on humble leadership for its senior execs.

One of the reasons humility is having a moment may be that humble leaders tend to be better able to navigate uncertainty, disruption, and rapid change. Perhaps that’s because they are comfortable knowing that they don’t have all the answers — something Godin alluded to in one of his blog posts: “My favorite combination is the quiet confidence of knowledge, combined with the humility that comes from realizing that you’re pretty lucky and that you have no idea at all what’s guaranteed to work tomorrow.”

More Seth Godin

Would They Miss You If You Were Gone?

What is ‘Sonder’ and Why Should You Care?

More from our December issue of Convene

Convening Leaders 2019