What is humility to you?

”Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.” William Temple, Sr.,

If you’re a Christian humility begins with an attitude of putting aside self-interests. Such an attitude would not allow any room for ones’ private agenda to be number one.

If you’re a Buddhist then humility begins with an attitude of realising one’s own ignorance, insignificance and lowliness, where one becomes selfless (ultimate emptiness) and is free from all illusions of self-deception.

The Taoist live life according to The Way, the universal principle of non-striving (wu wei). This philosophy creates an attitude of humility where you will will not compete for material gains and personal power. It teaches leaders to lead humbly by following the way rather than through coercive power.

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Humility is not self-deprecation. Humility is knowing that your smart, but not omniscient; you have personal power, but are not omnipotent.

Humility is increasing your valuation of others while not decreasing the value of oneself.

Humility is the process of becoming unselved and recognising one’s place in the world. When you’ve gained a sense of humility you are no longer at the centre of your world.

“To be humble is not to have a low opinion of oneself, it is to have an accurate opinion of oneself. It is the ability to keep one’s talents and accomplishments in perspective (Richards, 1992), to have a sense of self-acceptance, and understanding of one’s imperfections, and to be free from arrogance and low self-esteem.” (June Tangney quoting R. A. Emmons)

Humility is not self-contempt but is more like self-forgetfulness - neglecting (forgetting) inordinate pride or self-deprecation.

Humility is not a model or cure to turn an average leader into a great one. It is a foundational principle where one can learn from their weaknesses, and their reliance on others for success - the hall mark of great leadership.

All to often we have associated humility with inferiority. This is an incorrect concept.

I prefer to think of humility as embodying courage (courageous humility). It takes courage to admit mistakes, to (submit) learn from others, and push others in front of oneself who may be better suited to the task at hand.

Sherron Watkins (the Enron whistle blower) said that, “We want honest leaders, who are decisive, creative, optimistic and even courageous, but we so easily settle for for talk that marks those traits instead of action. Worse, we often don’t even look for one of the most critical traits of a leader: humility. A humble leader listens to others. He or she values input from employees and is ready to hear the truth, even if it’s bad news. Humility is marked by an ability to admit mistakes.” (Time Magazine, June 5, 2006)

“Leaders of all ranks view admitting mistakes, spotlighting followers strengths and modeling teachability as being at the core of humble leadership,” says Bradley Owens, … “And they view these three behaviours as being powerful predictors of their own as well as the organisations growth.”

It is clear to organisational researchers that the most successful organisations are more adaptive (learn quickly) as their competitive environment became more turbulent.

This suggest a premium is to be placed on humility as an important characteristic of “strategic leaders who were best able to cope with rapid change” (Owens et. al.), as it fosters an individual and an organisations learning capability.

Bradley Owens et. al. note that, “humility was the strongest predictor of performance improvement…and showed a compensatory effect on performance for those with lower generally mental ability. In other words, students with lower general ability performed poorly without humility but well with humility.”

Humility creates a desire to serve others, has an emphasis on values and purpose, takes responsibility for long-term consequences, and combined with the knowledge of both strengths and limitations can make it easier to avoid self-defeating behaviours or traps.

Humble leaders are less driven to impress and dominate others. They also tend to be less driven to collect benefits for themselves and are free from self-preoccupation.

We can all agree that humility is an admirable quality in others, because we feel safe and comfortable around people who are meek and humble. But when it comes to ourselves, we may consider humility a hinderance to success and a by-product of failure.

This cannot be further from the truth. Humility is a predictor of personal success as it enables a leader to rapidly adapt to change by listening to and learning from and others.

A humble leader is self-confident and does not need to to project that they are on top or in charge. It empowers others with room to make mistakes and the authority to make essential decisions.

Humble leaders are a study in duality, of being both modest and willful, assertive and compassionate, humble and fearless.

Through humility a leader quickly realises the mutual benefits of giving to achieve personal and corporate growth. In the act of being humble, you make others feel important and valued.

Humility is knowing, even having pride in, your strengths and gifts, but also understands these in context - that those strengths and gifts are not for your glorification alone but to help others achieve.

Humility is authenticity.

Owens, Bradley P., Rowatt, Wade C., Wilkins, Alan L. A Exploring the Relevance and Implications of Humility in Organizations.

June Tangney., Humility: Theoretical Perspectives, Empirical Findings and Directions for Future Research.

Christian A. Schwarz., Natural Church Development Handbook

Jeanine Grenberg., Kant and the Ethics of Humility

Jim Collins (2001)., Good to Great.

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Bad Behaviours.

No one can hide from the internet. It contains countless examples of folks presenting altruistic conduct, but more than a fair share others revealing less than desirable … etiquette. For example, several workers at a Burger King in Ohio... Continue →

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