They say that mastery begins with humility. And yet, between all the character traits that are commonly lauded in human beings, humility is one of the most underrated and misunderstood.
In a highly-competitive world, in which there’s constant pressure to appear more powerful or accomplished than others, it’s easy to see how humility could be seen as a weakness. To some, it’s an expression of low self-worth. On the surface, there’s nothing marketable about being humble. And if you’re not marketing yourself all the time, there’s a perception that perhaps you just don’t believe in yourself enough.
But nobody put this to rights better than the author C.S. Lewis, when he wrote: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”
Being humble is not the same as being timid or uncertain. It’s simply about being in control of your ego. You’re OK with others having the spotlight, because having it yourself isn’t important to you – even in times when you think you’re the more deserving. Because although you’re confident in your abilities, you don’t need to make others aware of that.
Being humble is not just a respectful way to live and interact with others. It can also help you to empower, influence and lead people.
What does it mean to be humble?
Being humble means showing respect and courtesy to others while also giving yourself that same courtesy and respect in return. You’re gracious in victory as well as in defeat. You’re assertive but not aggressive, and although you show self-confidence, it’s never at the expense of others.
You can consider yourself humble if at least a few of the following examples apply to you:
- You like listening to others as much as, or more than, speaking;
- You express gratitude regularly;
- You are genuinely happy for others when they succeed;
- You are welcoming of feedback, even when it’s negative;
- You take responsibility for your actions and admit your mistakes;
- You are comfortable with asking for help;
- You put others’ needs before your own.
What you’ll notice is that many of these examples take courage. That’s why humility is actually a great strength, rather than a weakness.
Why is humility a powerful trait?
Being humble does more for you than just endear you to people. It provides a secure platform on which to grow as a person and help others to grow too.
These are just some of the things that humility does for you, and for the people around you.
1. You make better decisions.
By taking your ego out of the equation, the choices you make are more likely to be for the greater good. You can act with moral conviction and common sense, because you’re not being swayed by your own interests. This is why humble people make the best leaders – because they put the interests of the tribe before their own.
On the flipside, people with less control over their ego naturally make poorer decisions. That’s because they are more likely to do what they think will put them in the best light, rather than what is actually best for everybody.
2. You are more situationally aware.
When you’re less preoccupied with yourself, you’re more observant to what’s happening around you. This is another great leadership trait, because it gives you a better ability to read the room, understand how others are feeling and identify problems.
3. You learn faster.
If you’re humble, you acknowledge that you can learn from others. Being open-minded to the opinions and experiences of others, and more inclined to listen when people speak, you will learn better ways to do things.
Arrogant people learn slower, because they refuse to admit what they don’t know. The sheer idea of learning from somebody else makes them feel inadequate, so they end up shunning opportunities to acquire knowledge.
4. You have more influence.
There’s great authenticity in humility, because you’re essentially acknowledging that you are, like all human beings, not perfect. This inspires trust and helps others to relate to you. And when you’re trusted, you have the opportunity to be more influential. Many humble people put themselves below somebody else because they know that it will raise that person’s confidence and allow them to be more open.
It might sound manipulative, but having the power to influence others is in fact a crucial leadership trait. Being able to unlock people with your humility can help you to inspire and motivate them.
Why is humility often overlooked?
As I wrote above, humility is, to some people, synonymous with weakness and submission. It’s seen as a vulnerability – and in many ways, that’s exactly what it is.
But ego is a great curse, particularly in people who have been given a leadership role for the first time. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that nobody will respect you unless you present yourself as smarter or more accomplished than the people you are leading. It feels as though you’ll risk losing your influence if you make a mistake.
But with experience, most people realize that expressing vulnerability helps you to gain people’s trust. There’s absolutely no shame in saying “I was wrong about this” or “you guys know more about this than me”. Most of the time, the reality is clear to everybody, and you only stand to lose credibility by trying to hide your frailties.
How to become more humble
None of us are perfect, and we could all stand to be more humble at times. Life sometimes feels like a bit of a race, and it’s easy to get sucked into thinking that we need to project a certain image of ourselves. It also feels good when we’re being praised for doing something well, and that can become addictive.
But these are some examples of how we can, together, become more humble.
1. Be grateful for what you have.
Arrogance is often the result of feeling that other people have more than we do, whether that’s skills, wealth or just life experience. We then feel compelled to prove otherwise. Being grateful for what you have makes you feel less inclined to grapple for acclaim and admiration.
2. Spend time listening to others.
There’s no doubt that it feels great to talk. But by spending more time listening to others, and actually drawing out their thoughts and feelings, we learn to see the value that doing so brings to both parties. We have a lot to learn from each other. Listening to people also helps them to feel recognized and appreciated.
3. Ask for help.
People rarely judge you when you ask for help. Most people actually enjoy helping others wherever they can. And by asking for help, you are very likely to profit from new perspectives and advice.
4. Ask for feedback.
Asking for feedback is another thing that benefits both parties. For you, it helps you to understand your strengths and weaknesses which can only be beneficial to your growth. And for others, it shows that you respect their opinion. Even when feedback can be hard to take, usually it has been beneficial for both parties.