It’s that time of year again when we turn our thoughts to gift-giving. This post, from 2010, reflects on the more intangible, but often priceless gifts, we can give to each other. In particular it focuses on what I think humility looks like when it is in action. And, by the way, this post was inspired by one written by Mary Jo Asmus. Be sure to visit her blog before you finish here. It’s a gift in itself to anyone who aspires to lead well.
Some time ago, Mary Jo Asmus published a blog post entitled Giving Away Your Gifts. It served as a reminder, to me at least, that non-tangible assets, when shared, are indeed gifts to those who receive them.
Mary Jo outlined a number of important gifts that leaders can give and then she asked us to think about other qualities that leaders might bring and apply at work.
I offered the gift of humility.
Mary Jo said it was a great gift but asked, “How would you give humility to others?”
Well, that started me thinking. How indeed? After all, humility is one of those things that is constantly in competition with the ego. And, it’s not a quality that comes naturally or easily to human beings either. In fact, we can’t actually give humility to another person. Even the idea sounds a bit, well, arrogant doesn’t it?
I suppose I could go off on some esoteric journey about the righteousness of humility (a journey on which I would no doubt find myself alone), but right now, I’m more interested in looking at some of its more practical aspects.
Here are some that come to mind. Leaders give the gift of humility every time they:
- Praise others and give credit for work well done, without expectation of sharing in the tangible recognition that may come from it.
- Give the challenge of new and exciting assignments to those who they feel will get the best result and grow from the experience, even if doing the work themselves would have earned them major bragging rights.
- Step behind the rest of their team when accolades are being given for great results.
- Look in the mirror first, when things go wrong.
- Make the work and the collective effort of the team more important than their own status or image.
- Express more pride in their teams, the work and their values than in themselves.
Okay, all this sounds tough. And it is. It may appear Paradoxical, but I think that to be able to carry off true leadership with humility, we need a healthy sense of self-esteem, because then we can more easily find contentment and pride in allowing others to shine brighter, or more often, than we do. It is that, that makes it a gift.
Many of you will have heard of Jim Collins. He advocates the combination of humility and will as being present in the most accomplished and effective leaders.
He refers to it as “The Five”, meaning level five leadership and explains it here:
Do we have to be captains of industry to give the gift of humility? The simple answer is no. Does it mean that we have to turn into someone like Charles Dickens’ Uriah Heep to be humble? Certainly not.
But, it does take practice and sincerity. I’m still working on it. You?