HUMILITY IS OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH WEAKNESS–NOT WITH STRONG LEADERS. IN HIS NEW BOOK, DAVID J. BOBB EXPLAINS WHY THAT’S A MISTAKE.
BY: DAVID J. BOBB
Before he became one of America’s ultimate success stories–inventor, scientist, diplomat, and the consummate connector of people and ideas–Benjamin Franklin was convinced that he was a moral mediocrity.
Disgruntled with the disorder of his life, frustrated by his lack of productivity, and bent upon becoming more frugal, Franklin set out on a project he called “moral perfection.” Having made a list of 12 areas of attitude and action that needed improvement, the 27-year-old Philadelphian asked a friend to look over his list.
What his friend told him had to hurt a little, for as Franklin wrote in his Autobiography, the man “kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride showed itself frequently in conversation.” Humility had to be the 13th virtue in his project.
HUMILITY ASKS US TO ACKNOWLEDGE OUR IMPERFECTIONS. IT REQUIRES THAT WE ADMIT WHEN WE ARE WRONG AND THEN CHANGE COURSE.
Not many friends–let alone business colleagues–are quick to confront arrogance in those around them. And if you’re arrogant, you’re certainly not eager to admit it. “Humility is the first of the virtues,” Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “for other people.”
Of all the virtues vital for successful leadership, humility elicits the most lip service–and the least decisive action. It’s a hard-won virtue, constantly demanding an honest assessment of one’s real merit. Humility asks us to acknowledge our imperfections. It requires that we admit when we are wrong and then change course. It counsels putting others first in thought, word, and deed, and it avoids the narcissistic self-promotion so rampant today.
Attractive in theory, humility sounds as though it will lead to failure in real life. As the conventional wisdom holds, humble folks must be shy and retiring, never forceful or magnetic. They have poor self-esteem and probably even hate themselves. They’re pushovers–meek, timid, and weak. To become humble in business, politics, or daily life is to give up on the possibility of high achievement.