Republished February 2024
(A Toastmasters Project)
Originally published in Forte 2018-2019
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, that's not quite it. 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.” The verbiage is a little convoluted, but definitely more on point.
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”. They may feel a strong need to control and might micro-manage ad nauseam. In an effort to portray confident and capable leadership, they may not be willing to admit to shortfalls, and worse, they may make decisions without consulting their team. There are also those despicable sorts who do listen to the team and incorporate their ideas, but then take all the credit for the initiative. 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”, not just between companies, but also between individuals within companies. That’s not exactly a mindset that recognizes the virtues of humility.”
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.
The really cool thing about it is that striving towards and practicing confident interactions will empower you in ways you never imagined.