Can you be humble in the business world and get ahead?

25. June 2016 All, Career 0

When I first joined Wall Street in ’02, I knew right away that this business world would be a test of my will. The people at the top had similar personas:  aggressive, intelligent and confident. The combination was intimidating.

So I tried it on for size and it wasn’t pretty. I was unauthentic and awkward. I stopped immediately.

Then I allowed a softer, more compassionate side of me come forward and I struggled to assert authority. I became too concerned with being liked.

Every tested leader eventually realizes that the whole point of leading is not following the pack, let alone caring what they think of you. That’s where confidence comes from. It comes from conviction – a deep belief and purpose. It has root (Note: arrogance is confidence without root).

In the corporate world, confidence and assertiveness are viewed as necessary leadership traits. The one who speaks with command is preferred to the one who is timid. The one who is aggressive is preferred to one who accommodates. And so it goes. Thus the question is can you really be humble and not get eaten alive?

Here’s what I’ve learned.

The answer is encouraging to those with a higher purpose. Fools mistake humility for timidity, patience for weakness. I admit I’ve been trapped by my own pride and lack of perspective. Paying attention to others and being open to new ideas is table stakes. Humility on the other hand is a completely different level. It is seeking out wisdom in hard to find places. It’s recognizing the brilliance in a contrarian thought or drawing out the untested to see what could be. It’s having faith that in order to accelerate you must first slow down.

This type of leadership creates space for more creation. It fuels innovation. It changes the world.

So yes, not only can you but mustn’t you?