Humility is a wonderful thing. I’m not talking about the grovelling, ass-kissing, Uriah Heep kind of humility. I’m talking about the kind of humility that comes from confidence in yourself and the understanding of your own strengths, the kind of humility that isn’t afraid to admit that you can’t possibly know everything. Humility opens your mind to the wisdom of others.
The Cambridge English dictionary defines humility as the “quality of not being proud because you are aware of your bad qualities”. Nope, not that kind. Google defines it as, “a modest or low view of one’s own importance.” Uh-uh. The Urban dictionary says, “True humility is to recognize your value and others’ value while looking up. It is to see there is far greater than ourself into who we can become, who others can become, and how much more we can do and be.” A bit convoluted, perhaps, but definitely more on point.
The best leaders are humble ones, although that certainly does not seem to be the case on the world stage these days. A humble leader knows that they don’t have all the answers, and they understand that it’s not at all in their best interests to pretend that they do. Arrogance is bad enough on its own, but it’s positively deadly when combined with a lack of substance, knowledge or understanding.
Anyone who has spent time in a hierarchy has probably encountered the type of person who is intoxicated by their own power when granted the role of managing others. This person revels in being “the boss”. She may feel a strong need to control and she might micro-manage ad nauseam. In an effort to portray confident and capable leadership, she may not be willing to admit that she has shortfalls, and worse, she may make decisions and issue directives without consulting her team, listening to them or using their ideas to achieve mutual goals. There’s also the despicable sort who does listen to her team and incorporates their ideas, but fails to share the credit for them. All of these behaviours are anathema to building a loyal and successful team.
An article penned by Bill Taylor in the Harvard Business Review in 2018 offered up this insight:
“Edgar Schein, professor emeritus at MIT Sloan School of Management, and an expert on leadership and culture, once asked a group of his students what it means to be promoted to the rank of manager. “They said without hesitation, ‘It means I can now tell others what to do.’” Those are the roots of the know-it-all style of leadership. “Deep down, many of us believe that if you are not winning, you are losing,” Schein warns. The “tacit assumption” among executives “is that life is fundamentally and always a competition” — between companies, but also between individuals within companies. That’s not exactly a mindset that recognizes the virtues of humility.”
Sadly, the concept that life is fundamentally a competition is not restricted to the world of business. We see it every day. There are women who are so intimidated by stronger personalities that they’re afraid to contribute. Others are threatened by ideas that are not their own or by alternative points of view. Some resent the success of others, and some present a dishonest persona to the world in an effort to convince everyone that they’re something they’re not. Last but not at all least, there are those who would rather monologue about how amazing they are than listen to anyone else. Like the meme says, “a lion has no need to tell you that it’s a lion.”
Ridding society of these unproductive interactions is what the empowerment movement is all about. It’s a mind-shift that requires self confidence at its very core, and it’s an essential element of a mutually supportive community. We all have different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. We need the confidence to share the wisdom we’ve gained and embrace the wisdom of those who have walked a different path. As Artistotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
The really cool thing about it is that striving towards and practicing confident interactions will empower you in ways you never imagined.