A post I read by Mary Jo Asmus of Aspire Collaborative Solutions, Inc., Fostering Humility, dated February 24, 2014, has stuck with me for the past few weeks. I have been reflecting on this post both because humility has always seemed to me to be a critical trait of a strong leader, and because Ms. Asmus asked where the line is between humility and low self-esteem, which I had never thought of before.
To me, there is a clear difference between humility and low self-esteem. Humility comes from knowing yourself well enough to know where your strengths and weaknesses are. Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can accept that you cannot do everything yourself, and you can accept gratefully and willingly the knowledge and help of others.
By contrast, low self-esteem stems from not knowing yourself well—from having false perceptions of your strengths and weaknesses. Those with low self-esteem underestimate their strengths and/or overestimate their weaknesses. As a result, they worry constantly. When you have low self-esteem, you take input from others when it is not needed. You do not rely on your own instincts and abilities when you should.
The flipside of low self-esteem is arrogance—an overestimation of your strengths and an underestimation of your weaknesses. Then you do not seek help when you need it.
A false attitude of humility (obsequiousness) is no better than arrogance. Pretending not to have the skills or abilities that leadership demands will not endear you to your followers, nor make a good impression on your superiors. And as with low self-esteem, you will not be relying on your own strengths when you should.
Ms. Asmus reached a similar conclusion to mine about the importance of self-assessment, defining humility as
“accurate self-assessment, the ability to put one’s achievements into perspective, being open to new ideas, enhanced focus on others and appreciation for one’s surroundings.”
Then they need to own their leadership roles, but not with arrogance nor with obsequiousness. Instead, leaders should demonstrate an attitude that they will use all their talents to live up to the trust given them. And they should demonstrate the humility to know they need others to help them succeed.
I frequently find gems in Ms. Asmus’s posts. I encourage readers to sign up for her newsletter.
In what ways should you demonstrate more humility in your life?