Few phrases that have slipped into the English lexicon annoy me more than things like “I am humbled to accept this reward”, it’s a misuse of words. More importantly humility is a great leadership trait, which many introverts possess without realising; where many others claim to have humility while demonstrating how their arrogance and oversized ego make them poor leaders.
What is humble or to be humbled?
Looking through various dictionaries gives phrases like:
- not proud or haughty : not arrogant or assertive
- A humble person is not proud and does not believe that they are better than other people.
- Marked by meekness or modesty in behaviour, attitude, or spirit; not arrogant or prideful.
- Showing deferential or submissive respect
- Low in rank, quality, or station; unpretentious or lowly: a humble cottage.
And some synonyms: modest, meek, unassuming, unpretentious.
After the musical film Les Miserables was released Hugh Jackman’s interview responses showed humility (he had a starring role). Rather than referring to his great performance, as many actors do, he spoke gratitude for the opportunity, how and how great it was to work with amazing people.
Even better are acts, rather than words. At the Swanage Carnival recently, I was standing in a long queue for pizza. A man allowed somebody else to go ahead of them as they were in a hurry, that’s a form of humility. Other acts which show you’re not “above” everybody show humility, even as simple as making the drinks or cleaning the office bathroom (despite being in charge).
Humility and introversion.
The synonyms especially explain why misuse of the term annoys me. The synonyms describe many more introverts I know than extroverts. However, being humble is NOT part of the definition of introversion.
I have often found introverts to show more humility (having a modest or low view of one’s importance), at least externally. However, I know introverts for whom humility is a foreign word and will get their achievements into every sentence they speak.
Humility can be a great thing and allow others to engage with you more readily, as long as you’re not overdoing it and showing a lack of self confidence.
How should you respond to winning awards?
It really isn’t for me (or anybody else) to tell you how to accept an award. However, your answer to a question might guide you.
Are you grateful for the recognition, is there a (even tiny) amount of pride in being recognised?
If so, say so. Saying “I am honoured to receive this award” does not turn you into a braggart, although constantly touting it around afterwards might do.
Are you grateful for the recognition – if so, say so.
To say I am meek and undeserving seems to be saying the people who granted to the award are wrong, in other words you’re insulting them!
Why are we so bad at accepting praise?
There are many reasons people have trouble accepting compliments, often linked to social anxiety, “imposter syndrome”, or low self-esteem. The compliment given can jar with our own self-image, causing an odd response (“Oh, it’s nothing, I was lucky”) which is rejecting the other person’s belief in you.
Many people, especially introverts I’ve interviewed think it’s wrong to be hogging the limelight. There’s a big difference between being recognised and put into the limelight. That’s very different to those (increasingly common) who spend all their careers stating they’re in the limelight and bragging about their achievements.
Getting better at accepting praise can improve internal confidence and performance. If you want to build the internal confidence of introverts who work for you, you may find this article interesting.
Humility as a leadership skill
Humility can be a great trait in a leader. As a leader showing humility makes it easier for people to relate to you, discuss ideas, engage and listen to you.
Personal humility has often been recognised as an important aspect of being a high performing leader. Humility, or genuine modesty, is a lack of arrogance. Who wants to work for an arrogant, self-serving leader with an over inflated ego?
Arrogant leaders tend to think they’re always right and claim the success to be theirs. Humble leaders credit the team, making the team recognised and happier to be there.
Humble leaders support, inspire and develop others, rather than use phrases like “my way of the highway”. The sign of a great leader is the leaders she develops.
The sign of a great leader is the leaders she develops.
Tips to develop humility
- Spend time listening to others, in order to understand.
- Seek feedback from others on a regular basis.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- Credit those who helped you achieve.
- Check your language for “me” rather than “us”
What would you do to develop more humility, and would you be humbled to accept an award?