Leadership & Humility

What the world needs is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left….Oscar Levant

The word “humility” can often conjure up rather dark images. To some, it signifies weakness, ineffectiveness, and even a certain unsavoury slyness that makes people squirm with discomfort. Those who have read Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield will remember the obsequious Uriah Heep, whose sole purpose seemed to be to get what he wanted by any nefarious means, all the while hiding under the cloak of humility. To him, telling people he was only a humble man was meant to convey that he was really harmless, not worth worrying about, and then, when backs were turned, he went about his dirty work, causing great harm indeed.

People like Uriah give humility a bad rap. If we view it in his terms, it is easy to see how it might slip over to the dark side and become something undesirable. However, to me, humility is a noble quality that we could use a lot more of.

People with true humility see themselves as part of a much larger picture. While they don’t discount their own contributions to the world, they know that to accomplish anything of true worth, they must place the work above their own glorification. Many leaders in business and in politics would do well to take this perspective. And yet, perhaps we can understand why so many do not.

The world can be a vicious place and to some, survival means eat before you are eaten. From this vantage point, it is somewhat hard to see that a meal of tough competition, fierce negotiations, and cutthroat tactics could be served with a side order of humility and not cause someone to get indigestion.

And yet, the addition of humility to the leadership diet could very well serve to take the harshness out of many corporate environments and restore a measure of respect and dignity that allows room for creativity and positive progress.  I think so anyway.

I’m not sure what it will take for us to abandon our egos and need for self-aggrandizement. Perhaps it’s the courage to accept that humility is a sign of strength, not weakness and to govern ourselves accordingly. It is possible that the meek really are meant to inherit the earth. Before this can happen we must define our missions and ourselves differently and find someone who is willing to go first.

What do you think?

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