Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hubris and Humility – Finding a Balance

One of the things I have noticed in the last five to ten years is that we have either discovered a LOT more experts in the world than we thought existed or that current world dynamics encourage people to proclaim themselves as experts even when they are not.

Given the number of challenges that remain unsolved in the world, my bet would be that the latter is a more accurate assessment.

I wonder if we have forgotten the importance of humility in how we relate to others or even how we relate to ourselves.  Many of us have spent so much time overhyping our experience, our expertise or our strengths that we now believe it ourselves – our hype has transformed from self-promotion to core belief.

When that happens, one finds oneself on a slippery slope. 

We tell clients what their problem is before they have had a chance to describe it.

We tell them what the answer is before we know what the question is.

We can solve any problem without acknowledging contributing factors, waving them off as irrelevant to the problem.

We aggressively promote a solution to a problem even if we have never solved a problem like this before.

We believe no one else can solve a problem like we can.

On a personal level, we think that no one understands our challenges – they are simply too complex for mortal man.  “My problems are unique” or “You simply don’t understand” we proclaim to others.

Frankly, we amaze ourselves with our brilliance.  We’re just waiting for the world to finally “get it” – to catch up to our brilliant mind.

Feels good, doesn’t it?

Or does it?

Maybe a client didn’t like how we didn’t allow them to describe their problem.

Maybe someone didn’t like how we provided an answer to the wrong question, making the answer of little or no value.

Perhaps someone got so tired of hearing how we are the best person for the job bar none that they went off to find someone whose credentials spoke louder than their words.

Maybe a friend or relative is getting tired of hearing our stories of how we saved the day again.  The life of a superhero is never dull, after all.

How many times do we wonder why it is difficult to get others to collaborate with us?  It never occurs to us that our bravado, our need to be the best, our desire to “own the whole enchilada” has turned away our potential collaborators.

Maybe, in the deepest dark of night, we wonder why no one is stepping in to help us with something we struggle with.

Perhaps we don’t realize that we have spent so much time convincing the world that we have it all under control that the world feels that we don’t need them anymore.

Maybe the world feels that we are overdue for a lesson and so we are left alone to allow the lesson to manifest.

Strong leaders need confidence.  Without confidence and a passion for moving towards our purpose, leaders lack the ability to inspire others, to motivate them and to push through when challenges and obstacles are significant.

That being said, confidence must always be tempered with humility.

The humility that accepts that we don’t have all the answers.  We may not even know all the questions.

The humility that knows that even if we are in an advanced state of knowledge, that there are always others who know more.  Not only that, but there was a time when we knew nothing and someone else taught us what we now know, which should cause us to stop and think before turning away the person who now looks to us seeking help and knowledge.

We need humility that acknowledges that we need each other.

This is not the humility that calls us to be the doormat to the world.  If we do that, we discover that many in the world are content to wipe their feet off on us as they proceed on their own quest.

I also recognize that arrogance versus confidence is heavily influenced by the perception of others.  In New York City, I am viewed as confident.  To many in my home town of a few thousand, I could easily be viewed as arrogant.

That being said, we know when our balance of confidence versus humility is where it should be, regardless of the situation and location we find ourselves in.

We each bring a unique combination of  knowledge, talents, strengths, insights and life experiences.  This unique combination of gifts means that we are called to bring these gifts to bear in collaboration with others.

There are very few problems out there that we can solve without the help of others.

When we realize this and humbly acknowledge that we need everyone and that others need us in return, then we allow ourselves to temper our hubris with humility.

I have been as guilty as the next person for believing my own “shtick”.  That’s why I am grateful for the reminders that bring me back to reality.

Some reminders have been gently and privately delivered.  Some have not been so gently or privately delivered, which is why I am reminded that confidence empowers while hubris kills.

Which do you embrace?

How do you know?

More importantly, would others agree with you?

In service and servanthood,


For my Musings-in-a-Minute about “Hubris and Humility”, please click here.