Can Humility Be Worked On? Yes, Kind of.

“The Value of Not Knowing.” https://www.flickr.com/photos/n0r/276318217/in/album-72157594467105582/

Being genuinely humble is such a common challenge. I see that especially in highly capable founders and managers that I get to work with.

I tried to be humble too because humility was such a sparkly clean and powerful virtue: A humble leader liberates the team by personally welcoming the inevitable failures that authentic learning brings. If Commodus in the movie “The Gladiator” had humility, his apathetic Stoic Dad Marcus Aurelius would have approved, and no one had to suffer the pillow of death.

Source: https://bookandfilmglobe.com/film/maybe-commodus-was-the-good-guy/

I tried to logically think my way into believing my teammates were capable of better ideas. I would proclaim openness in meetings, where “no ideas were stupid.” Yet I could never hold my thoughts back and would always make one comment too soon. “If he’s so smart, why would he pretend and didn’t just say what he wanted?”

Humility is hard. 1st, humility is an alchemy of honesty, curiosity, and courage. These virtues, by themselves, are some of the most challenging attributes to hone. 2nd, one side effect of forced humility is hypocrisy, the worst trust-destroying adornment that no managers want to wear.

One way to work towards humility is to “fake it till you make it.” The “fake” is to make your learning visible. This means you consistently say out loud to your peers and teams about what you have learned. The key here is you must only share things you’ve learned from OTHERS- Not from a book, not from a management retreat, but another human being.

Why does this work? 1st, it is easier to start by being selfish and commit to your own learning. 2nd, making your learning public hold you accountable. Lastly, by focusing your learning from others, you will start to taste the feeling of discovering excellence in others. As these add up, you might be able to scale up to the acme of all virtues.

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