Can you learn humility? This is a question that comes up frequently, and my quick answer is not easily. Humility is not necessarily a character trait to be learned or a skill set to be developed. You have it or you don’t. The longer answer is that we can grow in our existing humility, and circumstances in our lives can bring about a change but, humility is more of who you are than what you do.
A few years ago my brother and I were joking around, and he said “You don’t have an ego Rich, you just love how awesome you are.” Totally funny and totally true. It’s easy to fall into the trap of arrogance and pride when you’re good at something. This can be so hard, especially for leaders who receive regular positive feedback. For all leaders, it is critical to remain grounded and maintain healthy humility.
Success can be intoxicating. It clouds your vision, and people may be attracted to you for not-so-great motives. In this intoxication, it can be hard to fight the urge to grow your ego.
Humility isn’t about thinking less of yourself; it’s about thinking of yourself less often. C.S. Lewis
Having a high self-worth and being prideful aren’t the same. You can feel good about yourself, have a healthy ego, and be strong without being an arrogant jerk.
If you are interested in keeping a humble spirit and avoiding the arrogance and pride trap, here are three things that can help.
- Maintain a teachable spirit
- Surround yourself with a council of advisors
- Don’t just know…do
Maintain a Teachable Spirit:
Nobody is too smart or too experienced to learn. Learning often and being teachable are not the same thing. A person with a teachable spirit not only knows that they don’t know everything. They know that no matter how good things are, how much they know, or the positive results they get; they have things to learn.
A person with a teachable spirit is not offended when they receive correction or feedback. They make it safe and easy to bring things up. They search for opportunities for input from many different people and different areas of their life.
Having a teachable spirit does not mean you are weak or that others can push you around. The teachable spirit has a unique blend of humility, strength, courage, and tenacity.
Just this week my wife and I were in a small-group meeting with some other couples from our church. The topic of teachability came up. I asked several of the self-proclaimed “old farts” in the group what humility meant to them. Their response was so valuable: You must listen
- You must be slow to speak and quick to listen
- When we listen, we show we are prepared to learn
- Reflect – don’t be in a hurry to give a response
- Receive what people are saying and simply listen; you don’t always need to fix it
Surround yourself with a Council of Advisors:
Wisdom comes in a multitude of councilors. Leadership is a lonely place. So many of the leaders I work with find themselves in a place where they either have nobody to talk to or worse yet, choose not to talk with anyone about their challenges.
The strongest ones I know don’t do it alone. Over the years I’ve been in many peer groups, masterminds or think tanks. The power of accountability and support in these groups has been invaluable. Not only professionally but personally as well. If you don’t have a group you consider your council of advisors, get one. Every leader must have a place to go where they can take their questions, concerns, thoughts, and fears.
Don’t Just Know…Do:
Too many people know the right thing to do, the right thing to say, and the right way to think. Unfortunately, not enough do it. Don’t be a person that always knows the right answer. Be someone that knows what is right and does it. When I think of a strong leader I think of someone who not only knows what needs to be done, they have the courage to do it even when it doesn’t feel good.
Lead well, Lead often, LEAD STRONG.