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The Importance of Managing Humility

Humility is a human trait often perceived as the antitheses of a strong personality. The humble are confused with the meek and leadership aspirants often balk at humility in the erroneous believe that the twain can never meet. In everyday life, we fall prey on countless occasions to conceited behavior. We interrupt others to make a point, constantly avoid admitting to an error of judgment and hardly ever admit to our ignorance.

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In his blog, coach Dan Rockwell put the thought succinctly by stating that “humility yields success; arrogance blocks it.” He goes on to suggest that too much knowledge is actually a prime source of arrogance. He makes a strong point here since we have been led to believe that true knowledge actually wipes away the ego.

In real life, knowledge-driven egos are a dime a dozen. Harking back to our early careers, we can surely recall that highly qualified yet arrogant manager whose impatience with his subordinates sent them scurrying for cover. These individuals often brought with them vast intellectual resources but seldom understood the potential of sharing it and empowering a team. Probably, they had never heard of the idiom that “knowledge shared is knowledge gained.”

The 19th century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe highlighted the importance of applying  knowledge in the following words: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” Several modern day managers suffer on this count because they are unable to roll-up their sleeves and plunge into action when the situation warrants. Managing process is one thing, but the crux of success lies in managing outcomes.

In his blog titled “Leading yourself into Humility“, Rockwell goes on to add that more important than knowledge is practicing what one knows. “Putting knowledge into practice tests, reveals, and establishes true knowledge. Practicing knowledge helps produce humility,” he says and goes on to add that a great manager is constantly clued in on what he thinks about the level of his knowledge.

In modern day corporate management, there is a ready prescription for ensuring that one measures one’s knowledge level and ability constantly. The 360-degree review is a prerequisite for gathering feedback about one’s own development, given the fact that it is only the person who constantly develops who can mentor others along.

Veteran executive coach Marshall Goldsmith suggests that “One of the best ways top executives can get their leaders to improve is to work on improving themselves.” On the flip side, the arrogance of a boss has a trickle-down impact on the entire organization where executives down the hierarchy copy this behavior. “Managers then point out how others need to change. The end result: No one gets better.” he says. (Read the blog post here)

This is why companies that devote time and energies to create organizational DNA manage to survive and thrive. Goldsmith goes on to quote a study by Hewitt Associates which suggests that companies with ego-free leaders seeking continuous self-improvement managed their talent pool better than those who ordered their way around. “The good leaders identify high-potential people, differentiate compensation, provide the right development opportunities, and closely watch turnover,” Goldsmith says.

Is there a cultural or religious note that shapes egoistic leaders? In a column published in, Pastor Graham Standish (read post here) wonders if people can be humble and still be leaders and why it is that even the religious preachers (he refers only to Christians) speak so little of humility? He rues the fact that some go on about wielding political and military power on behalf of God! They self-righteously declare their position as the “true one” and declare all opposing views as wrong-headed or even heretical, he laments.

Later, the pastor borrows heavily from the life of Mahatma Gandhi to suggest that unlike arrogant leaders who motivate people to follow their own vision, Gandhi exhorted people to work for the greatest good for the greatest number. “Gandhi had a strength of character, conviction, vision, and faith that was amazing, yet it never led him to become prideful, arrogant, manipulative, or dismissive of others, especially of those who disagreed with him,” Standish says.

So, can the humble (meek) inherit the earth and make a success of it? Well, let me conclude by quoting Gandhi once again… “The seeker after truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after truth should so humble himself that even the dust could crush him. Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of truth.”

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