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“Oh, he’s so humble! I just love doing business with people like him.”

If you’re like most people, that statement just doesn’t sound right, because, for whatever reason, humility is not an attitude that we associate with business success. We perceive a humble person as soft, a pushover, or weak-willed, whereas we perceive successful businesspeople as aggressive, strong, go-getters.

But this is a misperception of humility. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The best way I have heard humility defined is, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” In other words, humility does nothing to dull the edge of our abilities or drive, but instead refocuses them on something that is truly more fulfilling. It aims them at a greater cause, one that benefits more than just ourselves, bringing benefit to our workforce, partners, customers, and—yes—ourselves.

Humility frees us from one of the most limiting factors commonly found in leaders today: Ego. Consider the following contrasts:

Ego:

* People with ego operate out of pride and arrogance, injuring the people around them in their pursuit for the top.

* Ego stirs the need to do things “my way.” This need slows the speed of the journey as people wrestle over methodology and hold tight reins on the how-to steps.

* Ego stirs the need to promote and proclaim one’s own name and accomplishments. This need puts self at the center of conversation and interactions.

* Ego stirs the need to elevate oneself. This need impedes service to the greater cause.

Humility:

* Humility seeks to remove obstacles, instead of being one.

* Humble leaders embrace the best contributions of everyone on the team regardless of title, position, or expertise, giving credit where credit is due. They are able to do this because they are secure enough in themselves that they can enjoy celebrating the contributions of others.

* Humble leaders relinquish concern over methodology to focus on removal of obstacles. They step in front of the troops, clearing the path for successful outcomes.

* Humility sets its sights on the fulfillment of big-picture goals, independent of personal recognition gained along the way.

* A person with humility seeks to achieve a purpose, goal or calling that leaves a legacy and contribution in the community. The passion that drives them is to “make a difference” and improve the lives of others.

* Humble leaders are motivated by the legacy they leave and impact they made, not by the recognition they receive.

Humility is not simply a “nice and cozy” attitude to take in business. That is, it isn’t just the right thing to do—it also generates amazing results. Jim Collin and his team studied 1,435 Fortune 500 companies and identified 11 as superior organizations (see Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t). The Magellan group followed up the Collin’s study by studying 11 self-identified Servant Leadership companies. All 22 companies had one thing in common: Incredible leadership. In further study, we can determine that the most effective leaders carry an amazing ability to both radiate deep personal humility and carry an intense personal will to leave a mark on their community.

What this tells us is that, while ego can help strengthen your bottom line, it cannot accomplish anything deeper or more meaningful than that, falling short of those things that truly set our companies apart as leaders across multiple industries. Only humility has this kind of power. Yes, I said that humility is powerful, certainly more powerful than ego.

Worldwide Copyright TJ Associates, LLC Diane Kucala, September 2012

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