…in all humility

My daughters are great levellers! At the very hint of immodesty or pretension, they nip me in the bud, offering an ironic preface for my comments, “in all humility….” We smile, but the point is powerfully made, and I feel fortunate to have their love and support.

While being humble doesn’t come naturally, I admire and respect people who have managed to use humility to achieve that delightful balance in their lives between ego and lack of confidence. Humility requires not that we think less of ourselves but that we think of ourselves less often. If the report in The Age is right, we are seeing an epidemic of obsession with self, where narcissism measured among university students has risen from 15% to 30% in the last 30 years.

Recently I shared a flight to Melbourne with the gorgeous Jennifer Hawkins and was able to share with her a story about her own humility, passed on by a 30 year old friend of my daughters. He’d been overseas for a few years, returned to Australia and met Jennifer on a boat where she was filming for Getaway. Not knowing who she was, he asked how she had got this great job. She said, “I was lucky”, but my friend kept persisting, “This is a great gig – tell me how – it must have been more than luck!” Finally she succumbed, “I won a competition”. “What competition was that?” he pressed. “Miss Universe”, came the response – at which point our friend hot- footed it to the back of the boat in tongue tied panic! As I retold the story to Jennifer, I again saw living proof of the authenticity and lack of pretension from someone who has the world at her feet, yet who is delightfully grounded by her modesty and humility.

Bruno Martinuzzi believes that humility is liberating and enabling. Being in a state of non- pretence improves relationships, reduces anxiety, encourages openness and paradoxically, enhances self -confidence. His tips for practising humility are worth a look. They include using phrases like, “You are right”, “How am I doing?” and in the daily contests of life, stopping talking and allowing the other person to be in the limelight.

He also cautions against confusing humility with timidity. It’s not about self-denigration. It’s about maintaining pride in who we are and what we’ve achieved without arrogance or hubris. It’s about being content to let others discover our talents without having to boast about them.

There are plenty of great quotes about humility. I like these ones.

 William Safire says “Nobody stands taller than those willing to be corrected”.

Fulton Sheen, “A proud man counts his newspaper clippings, the humble one his blessings”.

James Barrie, “Life is a long lesson in humility”.

 Ralph Stockman, “True humility is intelligent self-respect which keeps us from thinking too highly or too meanly of ourselves. It makes us modest by reminding us how far we come short of what we can be”

I’ve long been interested in the role of humility in leadership. Jim Collins identifies great (level 5) leaders who have the unique blend of humility and will, the antithesis of the heroic, charismatic leader. Will often has elements of courage and passion. We need humility to stop the courage being foolhardy and the passion being overbearing. Humility is inward looking in a way that other virtues are not. It’s the stance we take towards ourselves before it’s a stance we take towards others. It’s the glue with which we form effective partnerships and relationships.

Can ego and humility co-exist? David Marcum and Stephen Smith  in the must-read book “Egonomics”, suggest that humility has a reputation of being the polar opposite of excessive ego. In fact, the exact opposite of excessive ego is no confidence at all. Humility provides the crucial balance between the two extremes. Humility is a means to an end that leads to openness and progress.

Finally, Kathryn Britton gives an interesting overview of humility and how it is learned.

Well, I feel quite pleased with this blog…..in all humility!



3 Comments


  1. I think Bruno Martinuzzi is “on the money” when he speaks about listening and not talking. I have always found it difficult to “shut up” when I am on a roll of enthusiasm.I often think of a fork truck driver, Pat Mc Guiness in a factory where I was working, telling me I was ” just a — know all ” ,when I interrupted his presentation to the then Chairman of BHP. Sir James McNeal thought it was marvellous. The Japanese have a culture that only allows one speaker at a time—no interruptions or cross talk. Practising that for Australians is to say the least,difficult but very desirable.—-applied humility!

  2. Less talking… now that IS an interesting concept Pa!

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