The power of humility

By Allon Raiz

Entrepreneurs often battle with the blurry line between arrogance and confidence. Very often, what they perceive to be confident is interpreted by others as arrogance. For me, confidence is internally driven while arrogance is externally driven and, too often, arrogance is used to mask a lack of confidence.

But there is a more important approach to life which serves entrepreneurs far better than arrogance, and perhaps even confidence, and that is the concept of authentic humility.

In my experience, entrepreneurs with authentic humility tend to be more successful in the long run, compared to those who present a false sense of humility, or worse, arrogance. According to a study, directed by the University of Washington Foster School of Business, people who show humility have a higher propensity of making the most effective leaders. However, the characteristic of authentic humility does not exist in isolation; it has a symbiotic relationship with confidence – in two parts. Entrepreneurs who are closely rooted in authentic humility are strongly aware of what it is that they can and cannot do, without allowing it to take away from their value. Authentic humility sits firmly atop two pillars – one of confidence, the other of zero confidence (areas where you lack expertise).

When authentic humility rests on these two pillars, its brings to light the fact that, as an entrepreneur, you are not afraid to admit that there are things that you will not know. Not only does it prove that you leave your ego at the door, but it also makes it clear that you are willing to learn from others. It is always important to remember that, as entrepreneurs, there will be times where stumbling is inevitable, and it is during these phases that humility is an entrepreneur’s greatest ally. Authentic humility allows for team work, and it allows those around you to offer their help so that you can find solutions together.

Over time, I’ve come to learn that those who exude arrogance do so because they are trying to mask their lack of confidence. In my experience, entrepreneurs who present themselves in an arrogant way often evaporate into obscurity; the behaviour that results from arrogance is often an irresistible magnet for failure. In the same breath, an entrepreneur who masks their lack of confidence with humility is often interpreted as a pushover. Both constructs present a false sense of humility and, if you look at the long-term game of sustainable entrepreneurship, these types of entrepreneurs quickly disappear.

To be authentically humble, you must understand that there are things that you do know really well and things that you do not – because this is the sweet spot in which entrepreneurs are able to best manage their organisations. Not only does humility make an entrepreneur more approachable but it also creates a sense of trust to which colleagues and peers gravitate. The trick is to always focus on what it is that you’re good at and what you know, and spend time reflecting on how to improve on the things that you’re not good at or don’t know.

The best approach is to remember that everything is contextual – the confidence that you portray on a tennis court is vastly different to how you might conduct yourself during a presentation to 13 people in a boardroom.

The power of authentic humility is potent and necessary, especially to entrepreneurs. Focus on this important approach to life and take note of how quickly you will reap the benefits.