Can you Ascribe Humility to Yourself?

Most of us would easily ascribe to the view that, “When we become aware of our humility, we’ve lost it.” Anon

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However, in the Bible one of the most perplexing statements about humility is made, “Now this man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the Earth.” (Numbers 12:3).

Perplexing because it was apparently written by Moses, the most humble man “on the face of the Earth”?!

Whether Moses wrote this or not, it does raise an interesting question; Can a humble leader (recognise and) attribute humility to themselves? Can a truly humble person recognise that he or she is humble and verbalise it to others?

Why not?

If humility is a strength, shouldn’t you recognise simply as that, a strength?

Consider Allan A. MacRae’s comment on Moses:
“Faults are not hidden or glossed over, nor is there any false modesty about presenting the good points exactly as they are.”

Recognising and building on your strengths is not being arrogant or egotistical; it is about responsibility. Our values and self-awareness need to be refined if we are to build on our strengths.

Wouldn’t it be contrary to humility if we do not acknowledge our strengths, particularly as a leader? Moses strength was his meekness, his humility. To not acknowledge that would be false humility.

If ones humility is non-genuine then are all other virtues a mere apparition?

St Augustine said that, “Humility is the foundation of all other virtues: hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.” It is essential then that one recognises if ones humility is genuine, or mere apparition.

If our virtues are an apparition then, as leaders, we may need to start asking questions around who I am*, such as: what are my core beliefs and values? What do I expect from myself in leading others, and what do I expect from those I lead?


Humility (the virtue) must be, in part, a corrective to human corruption and is not a way of comparison or competition, or even the education of others in it. Humility is the meta-attitude which enables a proper perspective, a non-judgmental comparison, of self.

Humility should be the virtue we value above all others as our first step to becoming a great leader. It enables learning and adaptability, and brings the greatest change swiftly and thoroughly.

Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton note that, ‘when we say, “So-and-so has changed,” we don’t really mean that his underlying personality has changed but that his value system has changed or that the comfort with who he is has changed.’

Wherever you look you can see examples of people who have changed their focus by changing their values, and perhaps the most impressive example of values driven transformation achieved is by members of Alcoholics Anonymous.

When an alcoholic inters AA for treatment, their first task is to accept their limitations. This introduces the drinker to the virtue of humility. Our very first problem is to accept our present circumstances as they are, ourselves as we are, and the people around us they arise.

To accomplish this one needs to adopt realistic humility, without which no genuine assessment or advancement of self can even begin. “If we avoid turning these realistic surveys of the facts of life into unrealistic alibis for apathy and defeatism, they can be a sure foundation upon which … progress can begin.” Robert Furey.

If we fail to address this question of humility as a core virtue, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes, and never really reach greatness in our leadership.

We all make great sacrifices, accomplish some good things, and even bring some good and lasting change. But sacrifice alone does not make one great.

“He who sacrifices a whole offering shall be rewarded for a whole offering; he who offers a burnt-offering shall have the reward of a burnt-offering; but he who offers humility to God and man shall be rewarded with a reward as if he had offered all the sacrifices in the world.” The Talmud

We as leaders, as people, can and must (humbly) recognise humility as a strength to ourselves and others. If we do not value humility as a strength, particularly as a leader, we will fail to attribute and develop, in my humble opinion, the most fundamental virtue of leadership and humanity.

Peter Wagner (2002)., Humility.

Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton (2005)., Now Discover your Strengths.

Jeanine Grenberg (2005)., Kant and the Ethics of Humility.

Robert Furey, PhD (1986). So I’m Not Perfect.

 
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