One time on a popular online forum for startups and entrepreneurs, one guy posts something along the lines of “I need a coder to make me XXX by XXXX date. In return the coder will get two hours of free consulting from me. Inbox me if you’re interested”. This was followed by a barrage of sarcasm. No offers of help.
What did he do wrong?
He assumed his two hours was worth more than the hours a coder would take to deliver, which could have taken a whole day. He assumed he was more important than the people on that forum. No please, no thank you.
I don’t know this guy, but he apparently spoke at SXSW, one of the hottest annual events on the startup calendar, so he must have achieved a modicum of success to get there.
It’s easy to be humble when you don’t have anything to be proud of. It’s more challenging when you start stacking up the successes and your startups gets recognition. The more you accomplish, the more you consciously need to cultivate humility. It’s incredibly important to be confident while selling, but there’s a fine-line between humility and arrogance.
Why is humility good?
People think it’s a sign of weakness, of being submissive. When people say things like, “oh I’m rubbish, I’m no good” is not a sign of humility. That’s someone who lacks confidence.
When you’re humble, you don’t feel the need to walk into every meeting or encounter with anyone and make it all about you. Humility is a sign of deep, unwavering inner strength. It’s about standing in the place of knowing you’re the $hit, in a confident not arrogant way, where your focus is on making others a big deal, making other people the centre of attention. Making your client feel like the most important person in the room, doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself, demonstrates you care about them.
What is humility?
Definition: the quality of having low view of one’s importance. It’s basically the opposite of arrogance, pride and narcissism. Not to be mistaken with a momentary humbling experience, like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon awe inspired by the greatness of the world and how small you are. Or having Jay-Z or Beyonce invite you on stage to rap/ sing with them, and you’re like “holy $hit”.
Characteristics of a humble person
According to a University of California study, the five hallmarks of humility are:
Secure in themselves
The humble person’s ego is not threatened by others. They have self-compassion, that is accepting of the self, and less concerned with being compared to others or competition. They’re aware of their faults and imperfections, but don’t let it bring them down, because they see faults as part of human’s struggle. When you’re compassionate towards yourself you are compassionate towards others.
Freedom from amplification
Arrogant and narcissistic people tend to exaggerate information to make them look good, over-look their flaws, blame others while taking credit for other people’s accomplishments. Nice huh? Humble people reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, take responsibility for mistakes, and give credit where it’s due. They let their actions speak for themselves, and don’t feel the need to be all up in your face about it.
Openness to new information
Humble people are teachable, they’re open to learning new information about themselves and the world. They don’t get embarrassed about appearing dumb or hearing negative feedback. They’re not worried about being judged as being less intelligent than the people teaching them. Narcissist either don’t care about learning from others – because they worry it makes them look stupider than the person teaching them – or they’re only interested in activities that impress others. Great to take home to the in-laws, heh?
Humble people have increased awareness of others and less focus on themselves. They’re more forgiving, generous, helpful, and agreeable. Sounds like a pushover, right? Wrong. They’re just free of the ego’s need to look good, so instead of stealing the limelight, they can genuinely celebrate the success of others. Narcissists are less caring, have less empathy and they’re selfish. Studies show humble folks are more helpful towards anyone, not just because of they know that person is important, than people who are less humble.
Oprah Winfrey told a wonderful story about the time she had Nelson Mandela as a guest on the show. When he arrived he asked Oprah, “what is the topic of today’s show”. To Oprah’s amazement, she replied “Nelson, the show is about you!”.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less
– C. S. Lewis
Humble people see others as having the same intrinsic value and importance as themselves. Narcissistic people they think they’re more important – they might pull the “do you know who I am?” line, or they’ll loose interest talking to you if you’re not important enough for them. They undervalue others, using others as commodities for their own social or economic gain.
How humility will help you in business and life
When you’re open to ideas and negative feedback, instead of fearing failure, you can learn and grow. Understanding different points of view opens you up to new ideas. Instead of hogging credit, if you dish out credit where it’s due you position yourself to be more innovative and competitive while attracting top players.
When you meet people for the first time, unconsciously they compare themselves to you. If they feel threatened, they’ll have their guard up. When you’re humble, you neutralise any threat to their ego, create authentic connection, and you’ll have an open and honest conversation. This is really important when you’re selling. And you won’t make people feel like poo by brushing them off in search of someone more important looking.
Instead of being self-absorbed, they’re self-aware and aware of surroundings. Leadership is about bringing out the best in your team and helping them grow. You can’t do this if you’re self-absorbed. It’s also better for sales scenarios where instead of being concerned about pitching, your focus is on serving customers.
Instead of self-interest, having a sense of shared purpose helps you create the best outcome for everyone. Organisations with humble leaders have less voluntary turnover and higher employee engagement. When you care about shared purpose, customers know you have their best interest at heart, not just yours.
How to be humble
To err is human
Instead of playing the blame game, assume responsibility. Be the first to own up to mistakes. And be quick to forgive others for their mistakes.
Brag about others
Leadership expert Brad Lomenick in this interview with Lewis Howes said, “humility is about realising there’s a bigger story. It’s not about doing nothing. It’s knowing it’s not about you”. “Brag about others, make them the heroes.”
When you’re mindful, you’re in the present moment, and when you’re in the present you’re detached from the ego’s need for self-preservation, which is basically what narcissist do.
To be coachable means admitting you don’t know everything, ‘cos you don’t, being okay about it, and being willing to learn. Don’t worry about looking less intelligent than the person coaching you, ‘cos you’re not.
How often have you been in conversation with someone and you can tell they’re just listening to talk, dying to get a word in. Makes you want to stop wasting oxygen on them, right? Instead of dominating conversations, listen to other’s points of view. Listen, completely, with the intention of understanding the other person.
A Social Psychological and Personality Science article shows gratitude redirects focus from the self to something other than the self, therefore leading individuals to experience humility. You can only recognise other’s worth and contribution when you’re in a humble state.
Gratitude can increase humility, and humility facilitates gratitude
Treat everyone as equals
Humble people treat everyone as equals, they don’t look for the most important person in the room and aim for them. Or they don’t dismiss people because they appear to lack status. You never know who you’re talking to. Tim Ferris mentions in his talk “How to Rock SXSW in 4 Hours” a time he was talking to an unassuming woman while networking at SXSW. He didn’t dismiss her to search for someone more important looking. He had lovely conversation with her. Turns out she was the wife of an incredibly influential investor. She introduced Tim to her husband.
Treat whoever you’re speaking to as the most important person in the world. Because they are. Ultimately we’re all connected.
Pride builds walls between people; humility builds bridges – Rick Warren
What are you building?