Back in the dark ages, when I was in high school, I took three years of Latin.
I recall two things about studying that dead language. First, my teacher had
taught my mother the same language years before – she truly was an old maid school teacher. Second, I learned that 52 percent of the English language has Latin derivatives.
Recently, however, I recalled a third thing that I learned. The English word humility is rooted in the Latin word that literally mean “low” or “modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance.” And then my memory kicked into gear.
There’s a very old story dating back to the years of the Roman Empire. It’s about the importance of humility…
A general returning from a great victory in battle is greeted with great acclaim by the people of his city. They cheered for him as he traveled in a grand procession through the streets. They hailed him as a mighty warrior and leader.
However, the general was keenly aware of his own weaknesses and wanted to be sure that he didn’t get too caught up in the celebration. So, he asked a fellow soldier to do something to keep him humble.
As the procession wound through the city streets, this soldier’s one job was to crouch on the floor of the chariot, where only the general could see him and hear him whisper – “You’re only a man. You’re only a man. You’re only a man…”
The general understood that he needed to avoid letting all the attention go to his head. He knew that by remaining humble, he would be able to keep growing and improving as a leader and warrior.
In today’s society, the word “humility” is seldom used – especially in describing a quality or characteristic of a person in a leadership position. And when it is, it is not used as a compliment. You could well translate the word “humility” as a “milk toast” — “weakling,” “spineless,” “meek and mild.”
As a long-time student of leadership qualities, I have come to believe that humility is a character trait that every leader should value and develop. I personally define it as an everyday choice to credit God for our blessings and others for our successes. Humble leaders understand their place in light of others.
It does not mean that they devalue their own strengths. Rather they acknowledge the areas where they need help. As one of my mentors put it, “Humility is not denying your strengths. Humility is being honest about your weaknesses.”
LIVES GRACED WITH HUMILITY
Over the years, I have observed that the lives of humble leaders and people in general demonstrate similar characteristics. And they are:
First, they are confident and comfortable with themselves, and feel no need to draw attention to themselves or status. In other words, humble folks are not focused on showing off their strengths. They are comfortable and content letting their work speak for itself.
Second, they have a capacity for self-evaluation and are open to criticism. Because they recognize and acknowledge that they have weaknesses, humble folks, leaders in particular, are willing to hear constructive criticism and be open to their need to grow and change.
Third, they revel in the accomplishments and potential of others. With humility comes a willingness to celebrate the achievements of other team members and friends knowing that other’s success is not a threat to their own success.
Fourth, they allow, enable, and empower others to shine. Humble leaders and lay persons alike enjoy watching others succeed; they also do what they can to put the spotlight on others victories. Again, this is because they recognize that there is enough success to around.
WISDOM FROM WOODEN
Years ago, I lived in Southern California when the great college basket coach John Wooden was at UCLA. Over the years, his teams set record after record in games won and national championships earned. Significant numbers of his players went on to stardom in the NBA. Why so?
John Wooden often told his players, “Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be thankful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”
Over the years, I have received my fair share of accolades. I have been told that I am excellent public speaker, encourager of people, outstanding writer, even leader of men. I believe those are God-given talents.
I have been given my share of recognition as a teacher/educator, consultant, and councilman. I recognize those as man – given. And I am grateful for all the recognition from my co-workers and colleagues along the way.
But as Coach Wooden warned, conceit is self-given and one must be careful.
The Wisdom of the Ages exhorts us to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but rather think of ourselves with sober judgement.
We live in a world where a lack of respect for others is accepted as the norm.
The applause of men is sought on a daily basis. Aggressiveness, arrogance, boastfulness, vanity and vulgarity have become our moral measuring sticks.
May you and I never forget that pride precedes our downfall. And the only antidote to pride is humility.
Until next time…
Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 35 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years and is currently a member of the Lynnwood Civil Service Commission. Loren works as a consultant, writer, speaker and trainer. He is currently a member of the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation.