I recently responded to an article on LinkedIn where the writer set out to prove why being humble is a bad thing. He basically asserted that humility fosters blending in, not speaking up for oneself, and letting others (who are braggarts) get ahead because you don’t toot your own horn. I appreciated the perspective and subject matter but disagreed, so I was inspired to write my own post on this topic. Having had a feast eating “humble pie” in the past few years, I have a newfound respect for humility and what it stands for.
I can think of quite a few leaders from the past and present who I consider to be successful, stellar, one of a kind, movers and shakers by any account, who are also humble. From my perspective, humility has nothing to do with letting others run circles around you. Looking at the root of the word, humility comes from the word hummus, meaning the earth or the ground. Humility then has as its essence, groundedness, steadfastness, and standing firm on one’s beliefs and values. A humble person does not compare themselves with others as they know that they are no better or worse off than anyone else. Being humble means having a realistic sense of one’s position with God and to other people. Humility levels the playing field. It embodies the traits of honesty, authenticity, trust, acceptance, unity, kindness, expansiveness and generosity.
I believe very strongly in personal branding and one of its tenets is the principle that we all have gifts that we are uniquely qualified to offer to the world, based on our experiences, talents, beliefs, values, personality, etc. As Marianne Williamson says in her famous quote from her book ‘Return to Love‘, “We are all meant to shine…we are all born to make manifest the glory of God within us”. If you believe this, then you cannot believe in the scarcity model that suggests that only some of us get to be successful, brilliant, or stellar. The author of the article that inspired this post, shares stats on the number of people in the world, on social media and possessing college degrees in the US to offer a view that there is just too much competition for brilliance. Therefore, the only way for a person to succeed, to carve out a special niche or platform for themselves is by taking full advantage of their bragging rights. If they don’t do it, someone just as qualified will take their place as “nature abhors a vacuum”. I respectfully disagree.
You have unique gifts to manifest to the world—God given gifts. Humility is graciously receiving these gifts and sharing them with others to bless them and glorify God. You don’t need to scramble like a crab in a barrel to get others to notice you. If your light is shining truly, others will see it and you will influence those in your sphere. Though the greedy and the proud will have you think otherwise, your light, your unique brilliance, is unstoppable. Because it is your stamp, the efficacy of your personal brand. It is the core of who you are as a leader.
When I think of stellar leaders in my lifetime, who possess humility at their core, the icons that come readily to mind are Princess Diana, The Dalai Lama, Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr.
Princess Diana was the poster child of gracious humility. A princess, beloved by the world, as beautiful on the outside as the inside, who with heart and humanity used her influence to help the needy, the marginalized and the outcast. Her many charitable endeavors are well documented. Watching her being interviewed on TV, what you observe is not a woman full of herself and her accomplishments, but one who even in her gentleness and meekness, demonstrates her commitment and passion for her causes with grace, dignity and humility. In every single year since the anniversary of her death 20 years ago this year, she is celebrated and mourned all over the world. Why? Because she let her actions speak for themselves. She let her true light shine on its own merit, and we all witnessed her authenticity and the fruit of her passions.
The Dalai Lama is a study in tranquility, presence, open-hearted service and humility. Whenever he has a speaking engagement, anywhere in the world, people of all faiths throng to hear him. Why? Could it be because there is an allure there, an attraction which has nothing to do with wealth, perceived success, prestige or status? Could that attraction be the very humility and self-sacrifice so many of us shy away from? We are captivated by the Dalai Lama in some part because what he stands for runs so counter to the values we hold dear in this society. Simplicity, non-attachment, non-judgement are characteristics so foreign to the average person that a persona like the Dalai Lama stands out distinctly from the pack.
You may not agree with Barack Obama’s politics while he was President, but you have to admit he possessed a calm, dignified and resolute presence which for a U.S. President, was refreshing to many Americans. He came into his Presidency ringing the bells of change, hopefulness (“yes we can”), unity, and inclusiveness. After 8 years in the Whitehouse, he left sans scandal and controversy with his morals and values intact. I see so much humility in President Obama. He had a lot to brag about as the first African-American President in US history, one of the youngest elected Presidents in recent memory, and as a President who in spite of a Republican controlled Congress, got Obamacare and other major legislation enacted in his tenure. Yet what will go down in history is not a President that tooted his own horn, but one that listened, extended grace to allies and foes, and who tried to act fairly in his dealings, all why staying true to the man he was. Authenticity, poise, equanimity and kindness are some of his hallmarks—all key aspects of humility.
Martin Luther King Jr’s whole platform centered around non-violence and using the power of love to conquer hate. He rallied for justice and equality for African-Americans and advocated for peace and unity instead of resistance. What a concept! It was hardly revolutionary, but it seemed crazy against the backdrop of the violent and contentious civil rights movement in the 1960’s. His opponents mocked him for what they deemed as weakness. He didn’t go around thumping his chest trying to be noticed. Yet he built a movement so pivotal that it impacted the course of U.S. history. He advocated unrelentingly for civil rights in the face of fierce opposition and used his platform to “keep hope alive” when it seemed that equal rights for all citizens was just a fantasy. His beliefs eventually led to his assassination at the age of 39. Martin Luther King Jr’s was a visionary. He was courageous. And he was humble.
MLK’s story reminds me of a famous Jew that preceded him centuries earlier. Jesus of Nazareth spoke The Truth, knowing it would lead to his death. He confronted his accusers boldly and publicly shamed the Jewish leaders of his time for their hypocrisy. He was the God/man come to the earth in the most humbling of circumstances (born in a horse’s trough in a stable) and lived without wealth or earthly pedigree. He didn’t brag about himself but he did brag about his father, the God of the Universe. Jesus spoke favorably of the meek and the humble, and went so far as to say they would “inherit the earth”. The character trait of humility was one Jesus endorsed, exemplified, and encouraged. According to Proverbs 3:34, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
As a Christian, who has a newfound respect for humility, a recurring prayer of mine is to learn to embrace humility and to know that in my humility I gain so much more strength to do the will of God. In my humility, I am transformed more into the likeness of Jesus. Hallelujah!
You don’t have to be a braggart, prideful, arrogant or self-seeking to get noticed for what only you can do best. You— with your unique talents, experiences, personality, values, strengths and bravado— are needed. Your niche is already carved out waiting for you to show up and manifest your brilliance. They are waiting on you to shine.
Natalie Jobity is an inspirational author, branding coach, marketing consultant and freelance writer. She is the author of the Amazon Best-selling style guide :Frumpy to Fabulous: Flaunting It. Your Ultimate Guide to Effortless Style. Email her at Elanimage07@gmail.com.