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The Humility Barrier – Are you sabotaging your own success?

Isn’t humility a good thing? Surely it’s better than being arrogant?

These questions are typical when you challenge people to step-up, be confident in their strengths and have a voice.

There appears to be a ‘humility barrier’ – a cultural and mind-set inhibitor to developing influence, executive presence and leadership.

Breaking the Humility Barrier

The first step in breaking through the humility barrier is to look at the original definition and how it has evolved.

The term “humility” comes from the Latin word humilitas, which may be translated as “humble”, but also as “grounded”, or “from the earth”, since it derives from humus (earth). The original concept of humility addresses intrinsic self-worth, relationships and socialization as well as perspective.

In a religious context humility has come to mean submission of our ‘self’ and our inherent defects in relation to God or deities.

Outside of a religious context, humility is defined as the self-restraint from excessive vanity, but has been interpreted as making oneself less than others, hiding one’s abilities and overemphasizing one’s weaknesses.

This overemphasis on making ourselves ‘smaller’ than we are, seems to be a misguided inoculation against arrogance. But is arrogance the result of a lack of humility? Probably not. Arrogance is an insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people. As such I’m sure you have met people who are ‘arrogantly-humble’ – they verbally or behaviorally boast about how humble they are!

A Positive Psychology Approach to Humility

Research by a clinical psychologist (Tangney 2002) allows us to reframe humility in a way that allows us to increase our value and operate with Self-leadership. Think about humility as:

  1. Having an accurate, neither over nor underestimated view of your own abilities
  2. Being able to accept other people’s perspectives as equally valid as your own

The first part of the definition is based on strength – what are you good at? If you are good at something, there’s no need to apologize, or brag, just state the facts. Knowing who you are and what you can do, are the foundation of self-leadership because with this self-awareness we can value who we are (self-esteem) and what we do (self-confidence).

The second part of humility is the antidote to narcissism and arrogance. It allows us to speak up authentically stating our own views and actively encouraging others to express theirs.

To Your Success

Is the humility barrier holding you back? Have you been down-playing or discounting your abilities?

Self-leadership increases your personal value and your value to your clients, internal or external, because you are taking purposeful action towards an objective. The effectiveness of that purposeful action is multiplied when your act with confidence. You can do this without putting others down (arrogance) and in fact you will be more successful when your raise others up.

To break through the ‘humility barrier’ STOP asking for permission to be who you are and follow this advice:

  1. Do an audit of your abilities and achievements – celebrate these
  2. Acknowledge your mistakes and areas for growth –  then get better
  3. Be open to new ideas – and get advice or coaching from competent people
  4. Keep things in perspective – yes you are great, but others are great too!
  5. Stop focusing on yourself – focus how your actions make the world better for everyone else
  6. Be grateful for diversity – there are many ways to succeed in this world, not just your way

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