How Humility Might be Holding You Back

“Oh, it was nothing”
“Yes, but…”
“I couldn’t have done it without….”
“I got lucky.”
“Anybody could have done that.”

Leadership requires a combination of both confidence and humility. Humility tempers our confidence so that we don’t stray into arrogance. Humility can, however, become a barrier to career success if overplayed or overused, or worse still, if we’re not even conscious of this thinking habit affecting our behaviour. It can have a particularly pernicious effect on women’s careers.

You might recognise it in these ideas:

  • Ambition is a bad thing
  • Discomfort with acknowledging self-interest
  • Reluctance to claim your achievements because it means you’re bragging, arrogant, self-centred, or self-serving
  • Discomfort with power

Humility is of course a virtue and an essential part of good leadership but if humility is an unquestioned, automatic response to being given positive feedback or when credit is due, then it could be creating unintended barriers to you getting to where you want to be in your career.

Here is a list of the RISKS of habitually dismissing, deflecting, or deferring credit or praise, and of not bringing visibility to the work you do.

  • You may communicate an ambivalence about your career progression that you don’t actually feel
  • You may inadvertently communicate that you don’t value yourself or your work. And if you don’t value what you do then why should anyone else?
  • You may appear less competent than you really are because one of the ways people get a gauge of our competence is through our level of confidence.
  • When you represent your organisation, diverting credit not only diminishes your achievements but that of the company and your colleagues and senior leaders.  
  • You may under-invest in their own success as you devote time to building up others.
  • Your humility may be an excuse for staying in your comfort zone so you may miss opportunities for growth and influence and reaching your potential.
  • You may end up in a ‘Tug of war’ situation with other women if you judge other women’s ambition negatively. Warring with other women is of no service to the advancement of women in work and leadership.

It’s worth thinking about the unintended costs of habits such as being overly humble at work. Building this awareness can help you connect with your core values and be intentional about how you express those values and take workable actions that lead to success and reaching your full potential.

How has too much humility created a stumbling block for you?

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