The Down-and-Dirty Truth about Humility (Eileen McDargh) post image

Winning Well Connection Reflection

I first met Eileen when a mutual friend said “You two should really know one another,” and she was right. Eileen has a warm and generous spirit and is an amazing role model of confident humility. 

Before you throw up your hands in horror, consider the root of the word “humility.” The term comes from the Latin humilitas, which may be translated as “humble,” but also as “grounded,” or “from the earth,” since it derives from humus (earth). Put your hands into rich humus, that dark soil that is the incubator for plant life. Your hands will emerge dirty and your knees probably dusty from getting down on the ground. However, if properly tended, you might have created a garden of bountiful flowers, a vine that produces wine, or a tree that bears fruit.

Winning well with others, creating an organization that thrives just like that garden, requires humility—a trait that is impossible if a manager looks down rather than gets down with team members, colleagues, and associates. Sadly, we see far too many examples of ego-filled executives in both public and private sectors who claim to have all the answers. That position threatens the resiliency and staying power of the executive, in fact, of the organization.

So the question becomes: “Can humility be developed?” The answer: perhaps.

My colleague Bill Treasurer asserts that it will take a “leadership kick in the ass:” a failure, a demotion, a serious downturn, or other significant loss. Even with that, some so-called leaders have such emotional insecurity and fragile egos that any “failure” will be recast as blame on someone or something else.

Click on the image to learn more about Eileen’s book.

Let us instead turn a light on you—a leader who is part of this symposium because you believe in growing your skill. That simple belief loosens the soil for proactive steps that we all can take to develop and strengthen humility.

  1. Think of 2 or 3 challenges from your past life. What personal strengths did you use AND what were your personal weaknesses? Were these weaknesses based on lack of knowledge, skill, faulty information? If you were to encounter those challenges again, whom could you turn to in order to create a better outcome? What’s stopping you right now, from developing those relationships? In the heat of the moment, it will be too late to gather support around you if you haven’t already been growing it.
  2. Create a sounding board of 2 or 3 “critical lovers.” Lovers are those people who never give you straight feedback. You are perfect in their eyes, or they pretend you are perfect. Maybe they are the “suck-up” kinda folks. Criticizers are those who find that everything you do or say is wrong. These folks are demoralizing and dangerous. What you want are “critical lovers.” These are people who care about you enough to be straight-forward about what they see. They will call you on your behavior and, at the same time, offer helpful advice.
  3. Practice reflective listening. We all hear but few people are skilled in listening. Learning to carefully listen is akin to learning how to play a musical instrument. Practice. Ask a question and then carefully listen for both content AND intent. Content is the words. Intent is the emotions behind the words. Learn how to ask clarifying and reflective questions. Practice. As is written in the Book of Proverbs: “Seek first to understand rather than be understood.”
  4. Find a Yoda. Yoda was a legendary Jedi Master (Star Wars) and stronger than most in his connection with the Force. Small in size but wise and powerful, he trained Jedi for over 800 years. Yoda is a metaphor for a person who seems wise—often wise beyond their years. My first-born daughter is my Yoda. She offers insights that I need and yes, it takes humility to admit that age does not guarantee wisdom.
  5. Realize that lost is a place. Humility is developed in coming to grips with the fact that there are times in our life when we do not know where to turn. We feel small, insecure, frightened, and possibly alone. I wrote my last book, Your Resiliency GPS, because I needed to find answers when death altered my world.

I humbly thank you for taking the time to read this. Your thoughts are always welcome.

Winning Well Reflection

As achievement-oriented entrepreneurs who are often our toughest critics, Eileen’s thoughts about how humility resonate strongly with us. All of us can do with more self-compassion. Her invitation to consider that ‘lost is a place’ helps leaders to release the need to have all the answers and dictate direction, to “trust the trenches”, and include the team in critical questions and answers.



Filed Under:   Winning Well International Symposium
Eileen McDargh
Eileen McDargh
Since starting her consultancy practice in 1980, Eileen McDargh has become known as a master facilitator, an award- winning author, and an internationally recognized keynote speaker and executive coach. She draws upon practical business know-how, life’s experiences and years of consulting to major national and international organizations that have ranged from global pharmaceuticals to the US Armed Forces, from healthcare associations to religious institutions. Her programs are content rich, interactive, provocative and playful—even downright hilarious. Global Gurus International, a British-based provider of resources for leadership, communication and sales training, also ranked her 7th of the World’s Top 30 COMMUNICATION Gurus following a global survey of 22,000 business professionals. She is the author of seven books, including her latest ,Your Resiliency GPS, A Guide for Growing Through Life & Work. Her book, Gifts from the Mountain, won the Ben Franklin Gold Award. She also produced an award-winning training film based on that book. Her most recent endeavor is a movement to improve public discourse. To this end, she and two colleagues have created a global outreach called True Leader Creed & Code of Conduct. You can read about it here: Follow Eileen on Twitter at @macdarling.

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