Leadership Humility: Are You Strong Enough?

by | 3 minute read

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?

Deb Calvert

Deb Calvert

Deb Calvert, “DISCOVER Ques­tions® Get You Con­nect­ed” author and Top 50 Sales Influ­encer, is Pres­i­dent of Peo­ple First Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty Solu­tions, a UC Berke­ley instruc­tor, and a for­mer Sales/Training Direc­tor of a For­tune 500 media com­pa­ny. She speaks and writes about the Stop Sell­ing & Start Lead­ing move­ment and offers sales train­ing, coach­ing and con­sult­ing as well as lead­er­ship devel­op­ment pro­grams. She is cer­ti­fied as an exec­u­tive and sales coach by the ICF and is a Cer­ti­fied Mas­ter of The Lead­er­ship Chal­lenge®. Deb has worked in every sec­tor to build lead­er­ship capac­i­ty, team effec­tive­ness and sales pro­duc­tiv­i­ty with a “peo­ple first” approach.