Some time ago, there was an online discussion that came about from a blog post published by Mary Jo Asmus. In it, Mary Jo outlined a number of important gifts people can give to those they lead; the more intangible ones that make a big difference when building a happy and engaged workforce.
At the end of the post, Mary Jo asked us to think about what other qualities 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 it off, 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, which makes it a gift.
Do we have to be captains of industry to give the gift of humility? Of course not. Does it mean we have to turn into someone like Charles Dickens’ Uriah Heep to be humble? Certainly not. In truth, leading with humility is available to us all. It simply (not to be confused with easily) takes practice and sincerity.
I’m still working on it. You?
Note: this is a revised version of the original post published in 2010