Humility is considered as the act of lowering oneself in relation to others or having a clear perspective and respect for one’s place in the world. It also involves knowing your limits and having appreciation for the intentions, strength, and perspectives of others.
Unlike what some people think, humility is not the same as having low self esteem. A famous way of describing humility is that “it’s not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
In his book In Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue, Dr. David Bobb says, “The power promised by humility is the power over oneself, in self-government. But humility’s strength is obscured by the age of arrogance in which we live”.
In other words, humility requires enormous self knowledge, self control, and self esteem. For this reason, it is often paired with leadership.
The Importance of Humility in Leadership
To be an effective leader, humility is a very important characteristic. It combines several traits that help you ultimately connect to people, and earn their respect. Some think it’s the one defining trait that can make a leader effective.
In our world, we often think of leaders as CEOs or managers, but anyone who takes control over their life to make it better for them and the people around them should be considered a leader.
Humble leaders often acknowledge their own strengths and weaknesses and are open to seeking the advice and counsel of others. By doing this, they are able to learn more from others, grow, and also transform their weaknesses into strengths. At the same time, it helps them use the strengths of others, instead of trying to solve everything themselves.
When done well, everyone around the humble leader can work from his own strength, creating the best result possible.
When leaders are humble, they value their people and also have empathy and compassion towards them. Their subjects are also able to participate in any discussions and seek their advice when in need.
We can all imagine the leader who is not humble in any way and doesn’t take any feedback or criticism. This usually leads to a decline in their effectiveness, as they slowly lose the respect of people.
Lessons in Humility
Humility is being honest with oneself and others too. If a leader can demonstrate honesty and look back to his actions and behaviour, it can provide a tremendous opportunity for personal growth. We can all do the same things in our lives and admit that we all make mistakes and own up to them.
In a famous passage in Matthew 18, Jesus takes a child from the crowd and uses it as an example, saying “whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”.
As we grow older, it becomes increasingly harder to see ourselves as less important than others. Jesus used a child as an example exactly because it cannot think of itself more important than others. When you have to listen to your parents, humility is hardly a trait, but more a given.
Humility also helps us overcome conflicts and obstacles in life and thereby create harmonious situations in both our personal and professional lives. The same way arrogance can repel people, humility can bring them closer.
Being humble also empowers the people around you. When people are made to feel important, they become capable.
They are able to recognize their own power and confidently embrace it in order to become better people in life. According to Lao Tzu, “to lead people, walk behind them”.
Famous Humble Leaders
To get a clearer understanding of what humility really is, here are some examples.
One of the most famous examples of extreme humility, Mother Theresa, gave up her own life and decided to take care of the sick, poor, and the dying. Her work in India inspired many, and showed people how to make a real difference in the world.
A much lesser known name, Arland D. Williams, Jr., can also be seen as someone who took humility to the extreme. His flight, Air Florida Flight 90, crashed into a bridge after it failed to take off from Washington, D.C.
Only six people survived that initial crash, and they plunged from the bridge into the freezing Potomac River. A helicopter tried to rescue the survivors and hovered above the wreck, where the passengers were holding on for their lives. Every time they dropped a lifeline, Williams hooked up one of his fellow passengers, saving all five of them. Before the helicopter could get him out, the remains of the planes were dragged underwater.
Every time the chance for his rescue came, he placed the importance of the people around him higher than his own.
Michelle Obama says that, “We learned about gratitude and humility-that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean…and we are taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.”
Nelson Mandela said, ”As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself…Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility”.
Appreciating humility and recognizing it as a combination of qualities can help us respect other people and appreciate everything they do. It also helps us build stronger relationships with those around us.
~ Written by Bas Boshuizen