Becoming Great Through Humility

“Even if you be otherwise perfect, you fail without humility.” –The Talmud

In Jim Collins’ best selling book, Good to Great, he wrote about how organizations move from being good to great. Besides focusing on hiring the right people, confronting brutal facts, and developing a culture of discipline, Collins describes how the organizations were led by unique individuals. He called them “Level 5” leaders. These Level 5 leaders were unique because they were humble and had a strong professional will towards excellence. I’ll never forget the examples about how the Level 5 leaders would take credit for a team’s poor performance while giving credit to others when things went well.

I think back on experiences that I’ve had and it was rare to encounter leaders like this. I encourage you to take time to think about individuals you’ve interacted with that were humble and had sincere drive to succeed. Hopefully, your memories take you back to people that you reported to. Having a humble and driven leader is one of the most transformational experiences you can have professionally.

Now, how do you emulate a Level 5 leader’s ability to be humble? Here are a few ideas:

Know Yourself – Look in the mirror and conduct an honest self-evaluation. What are your strengths? What motivates you? In difficult times, what behaviors do you tend towards? Do you have a tendency to take credit for others’ work? Or, do you openly push praise onto those around you? I encourage you to take personality assessments that will help in your self-discovery process. Through that, understand your current opportunities and develop an action plan that will get you to a point where you have the ability to practice humility in good and bad times. Conversely, understand and openly accept your strengths, leading through your actions.

Appreciate Others – This seems like an easy thing to do, but can you really do it? We tend to see the world through our own mind’s eye, forgetting that there are seven billion people on this planet who all have different perceptions. No one person is always right or wrong. The trick is to celebrate each other’s differences. Each additional perspective that you learn and appreciate is helping you become better at the things you want to be better at. Try not to compare yourself and do not form an opinion about someone because of your fears about how they might take a job opportunity from you (as an example). Be objective. Find and surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in the areas you are not passionate about. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of respect. Respect for the other person’s knowledge.

Take Risks – Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are one of the conduits to learning effectively. How many people willingly touch a hot stove after they’ve burned their finger? Few. How many tech companies are asking their employees to spend a certain percentage of their workweek on innovative projects? Many. They are saying to their employees that it is okay to take risks because mistakes foster learning, which fosters creativity, and ultimately, revenue for the company through new products and services. By accepting that mistakes are normal, you’ll be creating opportunities to take responsibility. By taking risks and responsibility for your mistakes, you are building trust and credibility, further showing how you are humble.

Learn Continually – Because we are habitual creatures, we enjoy consistency. As you go about your development process, be sure to learn how to insert disciplined learning opportunities in your life. Be sure to make time each week where you can connect with a mentor, take on challenging roles, and learn from in-person trainings or webinars. The additional education will help to put you in a place of understanding. The understanding will help you accept others’ opinions and actions as valid, even if they are the opposite of your opinion. Validating others’ ideas will help spark thought in you and put you closer to a place of humility.

Give Back – A great way to show how humble you are is to volunteer your time, talent, or treasure. Regardless of your stature in the community, treat all others as equals and give of yourself openly. Be gentle when others respond to something you’ve done with negativity. Stand your ground, but do so with respect for their position on the topic. I also encourage you to lead with passion. When you absolutely love something, people sense your genuineness. Humility will grow out of the repeated feeling you get inside of the satisfaction of giving to others.

It is rare to interact with people who are Level 5 leaders. Although uncommon, by understanding yourself, appreciating others, taking risks, learning each day, and being philanthropic, you may get to Level 5 faster. Why not pair your diverse skill set with the above ideas to create a life full of humility…and excellence?