Leadership Humility: Are You Strong Enough?

BY Deb Calvert
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Humility is a word and concept that is often misunderstood.

Many mistakenly believe that being humble is a sign of weakness. We associate the word, “humility,” with other words that are unfair attachments to the true meaning of humility. For example, we sometimes confuse subservience with humility. We also mislabel a lack of confidence with humility. In some cultures, humility has a negative connotation that is associated with meekness and with not being assertive.

There is also that really wrong belief that humility has something to do with being humiliated. To be humiliated means to have a loss of pride, self-​respect or dignity.

Confounding our understanding even more are expressions of “false humility” or “false modesty.” These are instances where people decline praise, or insincerely deflect recognition, with the obvious intent to get more compliments and appreciation.

None of these are accurate representations of what humility really means. As a leader, it is important to understand and value true humility.

The dictionary definition of humility is “having a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance or rank.”

Author Rick Warrant is credited with defining humility this way: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

To be humble means to not be excessively proud or obnoxiously arrogant. The closest synonym for humble is modest. The word humble does not mean a feeling of insignificance, inferiority or low status.

As a leader, you can benefit by being humble. Leaders who are arrogant miss out on so many opportunities. Arrogance prevents people from being open to others’ ideas and input. Pride causes people to over-​estimate their own abilities and develop blind spots about their weaknesses. That is the warning in the the old maxim “pride goeth before a fall.”

Arrogance distances leaders from other people. Trying to be untouchable, elevated, superior and beyond reproach is self-​limiting. It keeps you from learning, growing and staying in touch with what is really happening around you.

Being arrogant and out of touch eventually erodes your confidence. After all, how confident can anyone be when they have not garnered others’ input and support? This lack of genuine confidence often manifests as “putting on airs” and blustering in defense of one’s own unfounded ideas. Over time, these behaviors earn arrogant blowhards a reputation that further erodes their effectiveness.

With humility, your confidence in your own abilities enables you to ask others for help, and to respect and value what others can contribute. With humility, you show strength by drawing others into conversations and decisions. With humility you are respectful of work done by others.

Arrogance leads to unnecessary competition inside organizations. As a leader, your humility demonstrates a desire for collaboration rather than internal competition.

This kind of humility does require an extraordinary strength. It requires you to set aside your ego. If you believe that real strength comes from surrounding yourself with capable, talented people, then you simply must be humble. Otherwise, your arrogance will someday catch up with you. Those talented people will not want to work with you nor follow you.

Ask yourself: am I strong enough to be humble?