Ah, humility! Such a wonderful virtue and yet hard to pin down.
You know it’s a good thing. After all, Jim Collins says it’s necessary for “Level 5” leadership. He never quite defines “humility” but he does pair it with “modesty.” Kouzes and Posner call humility “the antidote to hubris.”
At Google, “humility” is one of the five most important attributes they look for when hiring. They define it as the ability “to step back and embrace the better ideas of others.“
It’s certainly possible to be too humble. If you’re going to lead you need to step forward and express yourself. You don’t want to use your humility as a cover for cowardice. And you certainly don’t want to be like Dickens’ character, Uriah Heep, telling anyone within earshot how humble you are.
Ben Franklin listed “Humility” as one of the thirteen virtues he wanted to attain. Years later, he confided in his Autobiography that:
“I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it.”
That frames the practical challenge for me. If you don’t start out humble, I’m sure you can work on that, though it may take a while to make a change in the inner person. But, like Ben Franklin, you can start acting humble right now.
The bosses we describe as humble are the ones who put helping the team and team members succeed ahead of making things better for themselves. Every minute of every day, you have a choice of which to do.
Boss’s Bottom Line
Every moment that you spend making things better for yourself is a moment when you’re not helping the team and team members succeed.