False Humility will Kill your Career

False humility, or more importantly, not understanding the true definition of humility will kill your career. I know this because I’ve spent 20 years coaching people to senior leadership positions and the C-Suite.

Before you react, please note, I am not advocating arrogance. Arrogance and humility are not even on the same continuum, and misunderstanding this will cost you.

To be successful as a man or woman in today’s business world you need to project confidence, have a voice, and be visible – in short, ‘Executive Presence’.

My experience is that there is a ‘humility barrier’ – a cultural, gender, and mind-set inhibitor to developing, presence, influence, and leadership.

Humility Definition

The first step in breaking through the humility barrier is to look at the correct definition of humility and how it has been misinterpreted.

The definition of "humility" comes from the Latin word humilitas, which translates 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.

“Humble People are Grounded”

In a religious context humility has come to mean the submission of our 'self' and our inherent defects in relation to a god or deities. Unfortunately, this often leads to false humility.

Complete this sentence: "I'm just a ..."

If this task was easy or felt like something you have said before, then you are likely discounting yourself. 

Outside of a religious context, humility is defined as 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, is a misguided inoculation against arrogance. Arrogance is not the result of a lack of humility; 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!

Psychology and Real Humility

Research by a clinical psychologist (Tangney 2002) allows us to avoid false humility and operate with real humility. Real humility 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).

"Your career advancement depends on you knowing your value and projecting confidence."

The second part of humility, being able to see and accept other perspectives, 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.

Effective people management and leadership depend on knowing your own perspective and drawing out the perspective of others. 

Don’t Kill your Career with False Humility

Is the humility barrier holding you back? Have you been downplaying or discounting your abilities? This will kill your career.

“It is not the most competent people that get promoted, but the most vocal and visible”

The above statement is true, and from personal experience coaching people to achieve a senior leadership or C-Suite position, becoming vocal and visible whilst remaining grounded will catapult you over the humility barrier.

By developing your Self-leadership, you increase 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 you raise others up.

“Real humility is not hiding your own strengths; it’s showing others the strength they possess”.

Live and Work with Real Humility

To break through the humility barrier. STOP asking for permission to be who you are and follow this advice that I give to my coaching clients:

  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 mentoring from competent people
  4. Keep things in perspective - yes you are great, but others are great too!
  5. Stop focusing only on yourself - focus on 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

As a Global Keynote Speaker, I often talk about humility because I believe that it's important we understand the real meaning of the word and its practice. I hope you will too.






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