Between the lonely path of arrogance and the dark one of self-doubt, where integrity and actions meet in the marketplace of corporate ladder-climbing, humility is a first principle of developing relationships – whether it be used in self-deprecating humor or as a tool to bridge the empathy gap, humility is less a skill than a character trait and as such, less likely to be trained than diligently lived, moment to moment. Resting firmly as the cornerstone of competencies required of leaders’ development of self, humility is a paradoxical partner of ambition, a trait more typical of a spiritual quest than a pragmatic corporate business plan. However, humility when partnered with another not-teachable character trait – integrity – is a powerful ally for the betterment of a team, displays a kindness that is at once both authentic and consistent, and builds relationships through generosity.
Leadership Development Opportunity
About four years ago, as a result of one-on-one meetings with a manager of a different area and my own supervisor, humility was raised as an important item in my development, an essential touch-point after an internal job interview that was too focused on my own contributions and not enough on the work of others. At first, these criticisms were difficult to accept and I easily went through the majority of the signposts on the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. “Not me! These guys don’t know what they’re talking about! Whatever…” But with acceptance comes great responsibility, the responsibility to act on criticism, to do something, make a plan and attempt to improve.
So I read. Some of the books on my development plan came from’ FYI: For Your Improvement by Michael Ombardo & Robert Eichinger, while others were gracefully set into my reading and audiobook list. Of all of these, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, deserves special mention for its ability to radically alter my perspective of humility in the grander scheme of both work and life.
This post is a brief story of that literary path, a book report on humility. It is also an act of generosity, arbitrage from my library to the larger Heroic Life Path community about one man’s journey that at once tries to be pragmatic while developing a softer sense of self. A middle path.
So how does one advance in spite of the humility paradox, the idea that improving your humility meant a softer-sell on your skills, a dulling of an individual competitive-edge essential to the advancement of an independent contributor? Enter the leadership-jujitsu of presence, or in the current vernacular, being-in-the-zone. Purported by business self-help and the mystical traditions of all the major religions and spiritual practices, presence in the moment is at the same time the wisdom of the sages and the critical practice of humility. Being in the zone is the only tactical practice that improves both execution and integrity.
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
— Gautama Buddha
Fine… but how does a worker use the present? The answer is simple – breath. When you lose a sense of focus and daydream, take credit, complain, talk first, compulsively check email, argue, or slouch, simply count three conscious breaths. That’s it. There is no deeper meditative practice required. According to Eckart Tolle, this spontaneous reconnection with the present will breed a more powerful, longer zone.
For the most part, Tolle agrees with “Getting Things Done” author and time management guru David Allen that the baggage we bring to the present is what removes our tactical success. Not being able to clear our mind of other tasks makes the task at hand a drag, our previous experiences with a job done out-of-focus pushes it until the last minute. However, a practice of intense presence gives us a clear importance of doing tasks to the best of our ability and offers an emotional spectrum from acceptance that ‘this is what I am doing right now’ to an enthusiasm for the task for its service to something greater than us.
but does task-presence make us more humble? Maybe… in the indirect way of producing better, more efficient work that speaks for itself.
Task-presence makes sense, gives us a way to prevent drudgery in the most repetitive tasks, and enjoy our work more, making it more efficient almost necessarily – but does task-presence make us more humble? Maybe… in the indirect way of producing better, more efficient work that speaks for itself. But in order to present a modest nature as the denotation of humility requires, presence is required in relationships.
Humility Relationship’s Middle Path
The FYI leadership-ladder has it right. By setting the development of self as the basis for the development of relationships, a foundation is set for understanding, for alignment. No one wants to communicate with a know-it-all who talks over others, failing to recognize other’s contributions, and pausing not to listen but think about what he is going to say next. Instead, the cliché of communication being a two-way street is trumped by Keith Ferrazzi’s model of relationships being formed through an exchange of generosity, with the one-time receiver of an act of generosity being humble enough, present enough, to realize that he or she can’t do it alone. If generosity and humility become the currency of relationships in the workplace, a viral network that ‘pays-it-forward’ is intrinsically achieved.
Excelling in the daily tactical work by staying in the ‘zone’ and building a vast network of business relationships through generosity are ambitious acts, humbly enacted. The paradox returns but in an insightful way. The work of a career is more fulfilling if approach enthusiastically, and will be more highly regarded based on the passion poured into it; contacts are more than stepping stones, they are people, possessed of similar passions and problems as we all have and capable of greater generosity the more humbly they are approached.