What is humility?
Humility is the ability to put your needs aside and serve those of your fellow human beings. As such, it gets us in a mindset to think about others rather than ourselves. We could describe it as compassion — but it’s really more than concern, sympathy, or pity. It has more to do with respect. A respect that allows us to subordinate our own agenda, and focus on the needs of others.
This becomes essential as we develop a Big Audacious Meaning. Remember, we define a BAM as the difference we will make in a life, a community, or the world. If we want to have this kind of impact for others, it’s imperative that we have their needs as our primary focus.
The secret power
Humility is something that an individual develops. It’s easy to think of it as very insular. Something that we foster for ourselves. But developing genuine humility causes something pretty wonderful to happen. It can bring down the natural defenses of others.
There is a apprehension we all have about being judged. When one of us demonstrates genuine humility, it helps everyone let go of that fear. Usually it is with loved ones that we feel this comfortable. We feel like we can be ourselves — warts and all. Now imagine fostering that feeling for everyone we engage. Think about what that could do. Imagine a group of people feeling that comfortable around us.
If we want to bring people together and make them feel confident and optimistic, humility is our ticket to getting there.
What humility is not
Humility can get interpreted as weakness. It can be misconstrued as meekness or a lack of confidence. But truly great leaders show humility. Unfortunately, humility doesn’t get much attention in today’s world. Rather it’s the self promoting, blustering personalities that grab headlines.
A great way of understanding the power of humility is to look at what happens in its absence.
Often what we consider strong leadership is nothing more than hubris. Hubris is a showing of excessive pride or self-confidence. It’s easy to be fooled by someone who seems so sure of their view of the world and their decisions. Their excessive confidence causes people to be convinced of their ability.
I was reading recently about Enron and one of the most insidious corporate debacles in recent history. It led to the largest bankruptcy reorganization of its time. The incredible arrogance of the leadership resulted in scores of people not only losing their jobs, but also losing their retirement savings. Maybe the only sense of justice in all this is that those leaders ended up going to jail. It is a cautionary tale about the danger of hubris.
Humility takes great strength. The strength to examine our decisions. To question the ethical foundation of our actions. And to avoid the delusions that come with hubris.
The best of us
Perhaps the most desirable thing about humility is its ability to help us become the best version of ourselves. It’s interesting that the way to do this very personal thing is to do something that feels almost contrary. To not focus on ourselves, but to focus on others. As C.S. Lewis once said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
After all, when we’re thinking about others we don’t have the capacity to be obsessing over our needs. Scheming about how we will get others to do what we want.
In short, humility brings out the best in us. And that creates fertile ground for our Big Audacious Meaning to flourish.
Dan is an expert brand strategist and creator of the Big Audacious Meaning. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life. He regularly shares his insight here on Linkedin and at dansalva.com.