Regardless of your particular political, religious, economic, or cultural beliefs, there seems to be little doubt that our society is in a period of uncertainty, unrest, and upheaval. There are a lot of valuable questions being asked about what is important to us, how we want to treat people, and how to structure our society moving forward. There are many viewpoints on these questions, and some people will tell you that they know all the answers. With that in mind, the concept of humility has been a focus of thought and discussion recently as it seems to provide a framework from which to navigate some of the questions and pitfalls of our daily lives.
Within the world of work/business, where many of us spend the majority of our waking hours, humility can be an ambiguous concept. For example, it can sometimes be difficult to match confidence in ourselves and our abilities (which is frequently emphasized as invaluable) with humility. Can these two co-exist? Can I be an effective owner/manager/executive and still maintain a high degree of humility? I believe the answers to these questions is yes, and that understanding how is a key to being a great leader.
The author C.S. Lewis is quoted as saying, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” I find this to be a very valuable quote as it encapsulates a struggle that I think many of us encounter. In defining our values and pursuing our goals, there is an inherent self-centeredness that is a part of exploring our own journey. Additionally, in order to meet our goals, we must possess a confidence that we are capable, valuable, and perhaps unique in some way. However, this does not mean that we must view ourselves as better than others and that other people have nothing to offer us or teach us. A leader who is humble finds ways to make others better, to build others up, to show gratitude, and to engage in life-long learning because they understand that they are not perfect and that everyone has value. As the author and activist Bryant McGill once said, “An intelligent person is never afraid or ashamed to find errors in their understanding of things.”
In sum, the purpose of this article is simply to encourage some reflection on the concept of humility and its role in our lives. Let us not fall into the trap of believing that we have all the answers and that we know what is best. Let us not become unwilling to admit errors, be vulnerable, or acknowledge fault because it will hurt our ego. We all have things to learn.