Tag Archives: Uriah Heep

The Practical Gift of Humility

freemanX-GiftsSome 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

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The Practical Gift of Humility

A few weeks 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?

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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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