I’ve spent many hours over the last weeks talking with corporate teams about the values we aspire to and agree on within those teams – the values that form our team culture and that strengthen our ability to work together and be successful. These agreed upon team values are the foundation of how we treat each other, how we treat our clients and how we act as individual team members. They are incredibly powerful to know and use, and draw teams together like nothing else can.
Each team has their own set of agreed upon values, as do each of us as individuals. The one value that seems universally required for success whether you’re a leader or a team mate, is humility. Whether you regard humility as a characteristic, a trait, a value or a virtue, is seems imperative if we’re to learn. And we cannot advance if we cannot learn, no matter what our station.
Infinity Malibu describes humility beautifully, in my opinion:
“Humility is a matter of finding value in the right places. Defined, humility means having a low or modest view of oneself and being humble. Being humble is defined as being teachable. Humbleness can also be defined as having a low or modest view, but specifically toward one’s importance. Being humble and having humility doesn’t mean that you think lowly of yourself in a negative context. Rather, being humble and having humility means that you recognise your position as a human in the global context. You recognise that who you are is no different than who other people are. All humans are having the same experience, just with unique circumstances. To have a low view of one’s self and to be teachable means you value of not leading an ego-driven life. Instead of being defined by external value, like money and social relationships, you place your value on being humble, on having humility, and learning. Humility is a value of learning to have humility and be more humble.”
And that, for me, is the crux – are you teachable? In my experience, as soon as you think you know all the answers, life has a funny way of reminding you that you don’t. Humility also makes us approachable which is a huge strength. How else can we collaborate effectively and take on board perspective widening knowledge? When we believe we’re above something or someone, we are in essence looking down on that thing or person, and when we look down, we miss everything that is good, spiritual and may be aspired to.
Humility is tied to many other character traits that are required for leadership like authenticity, integrity, trustworthiness, and competence. When you are humble, you’re able to admit your own mistakes which keeps you open to learning and others remain willing to teach you. this shows vulnerability which is one of those traits only truly strong people can show. When you are humble, you remain more consistent than if you allow your ego to become involved. As discussed in previous articles such as “Who Comes Out of Your Mouth When You Speak?“, our ego wants only one thing – to put us first and protect us. When we act from our ego, we create barriers between ourselves and others. Our egos are concerned with social recognition and so tend to encourage us towards half-truths and the shortest route that works for us. These may seem like small concessions to some, but they breed inconsistency and mistrust in the long run.
Socrates said “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” This altered the way I looked at myself, both in what I take in and whether I’m open to allowing others to make me think, and what I put out and whether I do so in a way that inspires and allows others to think more broadly.
I’ve spoken often about how uniquely gifted each of us is and how vital it is that we actively share those unique gifts as our contribution to our teams. In the great words of Dr Seuss, “ Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Humility is what allows us to share our gifts with the belief that what we have is valuable, yet no more valuable that what others have to share. It’s also what keeps us open to respecting the input of others and its value to us.
There is a time and place for competition, but your greatest competition should always be with yourself. Ernest Hemingway said “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” If we’re to better ourselves, we can never allow ourselves to think we’ve arrived.
Humility is a human connector. It allows those who lead to connect to their team in a way that doesn’t paint them as infallible, but as humans willing to take on the responsibility of leadership with the need for team support. Humble leaders allow the rest of the team to feel required. Humble team mates keep us all approachable and therefore connected to each other. No man is an island. Taking responsibility for ourselves, our successes and failures, all with an even temperament, means no one ever has to defend themselves against us, no egos are raised and no distance created.
I’ll leave you with the always wise words of Lao Tzu:
“I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.”
by Christen Killick
April 1st, 2019 – No fools! Stay humble!