Want to keep it real? Be Humble

By March 31, 2017 No Comments


When delivering our Amplify Humility workshop I am often struck by the tremendous breadth of perceptions and views among the audience on the personal and business benefits of being humble. Unsurprisingly, many express a yearning to see more humility from our political, social and business leaders. Yet, within the same audience there is so often an underlying nervousness that being humble may be just a little too quiet, and too passive – many of us share a fear that humility will hold us back.

This is an important question; Is there a way to be humble, and be seen, heard and make a strong contribution?

I think so.

Once we demystify humility it’s very easy to see, that far from being ‘a nice to have,’ humility is an essential strength because being humble keeps us real, and open to others. Being humble impacts every area of our lives.

The word humility has its origins in the Latin Humilitas which translates as grounded, or earthy, or ‘from the earth’. To be humble means you are grounded in reality. To successfully navigate today’s complex and volatile business environments, everyone – leaders and employees alike, need to be as close to reality as possible.

Humility is one of the Strengths of Temperance – these strengths protect us from excess. Humility protects us from an excess of pride, arrogance and self-centeredness – our ego. Why do we need to be protected from excess? Because excess creates a loss of connection with reality. When we lose connection with what is real – whether that is business performance, customers or our team – our contribution becomes irrelevant.

Our ego wants us to see ourselves as more effective, more intelligent, and more attractive than others may see us. The ego manipulates this outcome by driving us to distort reality through either self-enhancing or self-deprecating, with most of us distorting in a self-enhancing direction (Myers, 2000). When we behave from place of pride, excessive self-confidence or arrogance we have overestimated our capabilities, and often underestimated those of others. Inside an organisation self-enhancement can find its way into the system creating a culture of self-enhancement, which can grow to delusional levels – think Enron and Volkswagon. The individuals and the system re-enforce ever increasing cycles of disconnection from reality – which can be devastating for the organisation.

Everyday self-enhancement is the garden variety killer of Humility. When leaders self-enhance, they destroy their capacity to lead.


The other strategy our ego can employ is to self-depreciate. This is where we under-rate ourselves, when we see as less worthy, competent or valuable. This can lead us to say “yes” when we shouldn’t, to be overly compliant, and subvert own needs for those of others. This is not humility either, humility is not self-abasing.

When we habitually self-enhance or self-deprecate we are out of sync with our true selves. This disconnection becomes an obstacle to happiness and performance, and we suffer a loss of effectiveness. We start to restore that connection the moment we begin to practice mastering our ego.

The humble person lives without any need to present themselves as any different or better than they are. Instead they demonstrate an open willingness to see themselves accurately, embracing all their strengths and limitations. This makes the humble person more open to learning and advice, and more appreciative (Tangeny, 2002). To achieve this, the humble person has mastered the impulse to distort reality – either through claiming credit, falsely attaching themselves to success, or through diminishing their contribution.

The ability master these impulses means that a humble person is operating from a real, grounded, rightful, natural place in the world, and because of that, they bring a deeply positive sense of self to their life. In the workplace, this rightful grounding creates a deep attunement to the reality of the organisation – its culture, its customers and its employees.

Humble people are able to help others step out of self-enhancement and into self-mastery. A humble leader can create teams and cultures who are deeply grounded the reality of those they serve. As Jim Collins (2001) found, humble leadership is so powerful, it can position organisations to achieve a sustained greatness.

The role of organisations now more than ever is not about slaying competitors; it’s not about winning at all costs – true leadership is not a destructive force. Truly successful businesses are a creative force – creating products, services and experiences for their customers. To achieve these things, we have to excavate through our ego so we can be humbly grounded in the reality of, and oriented toward, those we create for.

For every single one of us – the ability to be grounded in actual reality is critical to success – in any venture, any conversation, and for the achievement of any goal.


Try these 6 simple steps to cultivate Humility

Share Your Mistakes: A humble person thinks about how others might benefit from their learning. Instead of keeping your mistakes and learnings to yourself – share them, see what happens.

Love not knowing: This sounds like us saying ‘I don’t know’. Build up your I don’t know muscle – it will strengthen you.

Welcome and Seek Feedback: Learn to internalise feedback – most of us are not very good at internalising feedback that is outside our current self-view. Whenever you are given feedback, ask yourself, What is true about this feedback?

Be Honest: Stop sipping from the cup of self-enhancement. Practice sharing the ‘warts and all’ truth of every situation. It will hurt your ego and improve your humility.

Focus on Contribution: Deliberately focus your attention toward contribution and service in every meeting and conversation. Make your contribution about serving others.

Be Curious: Ask questions to help you understand how others see the situation, issue or problem. Stay curious until you are clear.

When we demonstrate humility, those traits of arrogance, pride or self-deprecation cease to rule the day. Instead a space is created for humility to drive the meeting, the culture, or the strategy, and the outcome is that your humility will help to bring you, and everyone you are with, into an attunement with reality. Humility is not a manoeuvre; it is personal principle that each of us can choose to step into and practice. Far from ever holding you back, humility is a strength that will help keep you grounded in the reality of who you are, and being humble will make you more effective in everything you do.

I passionately deliver sessions on values and strengths such as Humility into organisations. My goal is to demonstrate the vast benefits these values bring to us as people, to our effectiveness as employees and leaders and to the organisations we work for. To find out about all our workshops, keynotes and coaching visit


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