“Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.”
— Mark Twain
“You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.”
— Harry Truman
Can humility help us in business?
A friend recently told me, “I’ve been humbled by this down market..” What he meant was that his business has weakened and this has hurt his confidence. There’s a distinction between losing confidence and being humbled. Humility is the opposite of weakness and it requires confidence.
In his 2001 book Good to Great, Jim Collins contended that, a person’s will along with a high level of humility combine to create world-class leaders. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin, and Colin Powell are each examples of leaders who derived their strength from humility.
The strength and confidence needed to be humble helps us in business. It’s worth investing our time towards better understanding and perhaps becoming a little more humble.
Alfred Ells, a senior therapist with New Life Clinic and founder of House of Hope Counseling, suggests 10 ways towards becoming humble.
1. Choose to serve others. Doing so reduces our focus on ourselves and helps to build the character and skills of others. But when serving others costs us nothing, we should question whether or not we are really serving.
2. Receive correction and feedback graciously. Look for the kernel of truth in what people offer you, even if it comes from a dubious source. Ask yourself, “What is being shown to me that I can’t see?”
3. Take injustice patiently. When something is unjust, we instinctively want to strike back and rectify it. However, patiently responding to unjust accusations and actions of others builds and displays our strength and character.
4. Acknowledge your mistakes and weaknesses to others. It’s difficult to admit our mistakes and weaknesses to ourselves, even though its through these failures we learn. The true test of humility is acknowledging our faults to others, especially those people that we trust.
5. Actively submit to authority. Our culture does not value submission; rather it promotes confrontation and individualism. Submitting to those in authority, particularly if we disagree with them, reveals your strength.
6. Accept a lowly place. If you find yourself wanting to sit at the head of the table, desiring to be recognized for your accomplishments, or becoming offended when others are honored, then pride is present. Support others being recognized rather than you. Look for and accept the lowly place; it is the place of humility.
7. Purposely associate with people of lower class. Society is status-conscious and people naturally want to socialize upward. Resist the temptation of being partial to the upper class and those with wealth.
8. Be quick to forgive. Forgiveness is possibly one of the greatest acts of humility. To forgive is to acknowledge a wrong that has been done to us and to release our right of retribution for the wrong. Forgiveness is denial of self. Forgiveness is not insisting on our way and our justice.
9. Cultivate a grateful heart. The more we develop an attitude of gratitude for the gifts we constantly receive in life, the more we realize our successes have been gifts earned from giving.
10. Speak well of others. Saying negative things about others puts them “one down” and us “one up.” Speaking well of others builds them up instead of us. “I will speak ill of no man, and speak all the good I know of everybody,” said Ben Franklin.
One of the ways to be humble is by acknowledging our weaknesses and mistakes to others. However, to do this and other humble acts takes tremendous inner strength and confidence–the kind of strength and confidence that leads to enduring leadership.
Being humble also reveals our strength to others, and this strength continues to build within us if we practice humility. Ultimately, humility lifts others and in doing so lifts you. But watch out. It’s even more difficult to be humble from a higher position.
Vistage member Tom Mallory has been recruiting and coaching executives primarily at small technology enabled service firms for over 10 years. Prior, he helped start three technology enabled service companies and earlier was in marketing and sales roles with two global companies.