Humble vs. Haughty—The 5 Truths of Humility

IMG_8188A very fine line exists between humility and haughtiness.

I recently posted this picture of Central Park on our QBQ! Facebook page and wrote this:

Not a bad way to spend a morning, walking Central Park. In Manhattan to teach QBQ! at NBC at “30 Rock” Mon morn.

I knew from experience that posting where I was and why I was there was risky. In 1996, as a young speaker, I was hired to present on the same platform as Lou Holtz, the renowned Notre Dame football coach. Totally excited and enthused, I faxed—yes, faxed—an announcement to my clients.

The next day, a training manager told me that her VP of Sales boss had privately remarked, “There goes Miller grandstanding.”


I suppose I should’ve known better since I’d been taught better …

Five decades ago, at age 7, I got into trouble for writing these four words on a toy block (actual block pictured): 


John Miller the great

For my father, coach and pastor Jimmy Miller, haughtiness was right up there with lying and stealing, while humility was close to godliness.

He was of the Vince Lombardi generation that believed when you succeed you should act as if you’ve succeeded before. He would not have approved of NFL defensive players dancing over sacked quarterbacks, politicians from either party declaring “I won” months after an election, and church pastors touting weekly attendance numbers from the pulpit.

The line separating our expression of excitement and engaging in grandstanding is a fine one.

I blogged once about Brad Stevens (now Boston Celtics head coach) using the QBQ! book with his Butler University b-ball team to teach personal accountability. I wrote that I was “honored and humbled”—but added this:

“If I ever get to meet Coach Stevens, it will be me asking for his autograph.”

A reader immediately unsubscribed from our QBQ! QuickNote list, calling me “prideful.”

Just when does sharing excitement over a success become haughty? It’s tough to know. Sometimes it’s blatant, sometimes it’s subtle.


When my father coached Cornell wrestling from 1949 to 1975, he would never have allowed these antics that occurred just a couple years ago …

After pinning his opponent, the Cornell superstar and future NCAA record-breaker ran around the mat beating his chest and waving his arms, all to get the Ithaca, NY hometown crowd to cheer louder for him.

Trust me, Coach Jimmy did some grave-turning that afternoon.


I watched a keynote speaker share a humorous anecdote that informed his audience he was earning royalties from a Disney TV ad he’d made. It was a cute story. Moments later, though, I noticed an audience member walk out. Following him, I asked if he was leaving and, if so, how come? He responded, “Sure am. I don’t need to waste my time hearing how much money the guy is making.”

I bet the presenter had no idea he was turning someone off—but that’s the whole point:

Knowing and respecting the line between sharing our excitement/enthusiasm and demonstrating arrogance/haughtiness is challenging.

Which makes me think that practicing humility is a lifelong learning process. If that’s the case, let’s do some learning right now around the powerful principle of HUMILITY.

Five Truths of Humility:

  • Humility requires discipline and conscious effort.
  • Humility springs from choosing to feel blessed and thankful.
  • Humility is demonstrated in our words and actions.
  • Humility is a learned skill.
  • Humility is a magnet that draws people to us.

In “Outstanding!” we wrote, “Humility is the foundation of leadership.” I still believe it to this day. I know my dad would, too.

Discussion Questions:

In what way do you struggle with the “Humble vs. Haughty” dilemma?

Which of the 5 truths means the most to you and why?

What words/actions can you suggest to show a humble spirit to others?

Share below!

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13 Responses

  1. Thanks John for your blog on Humility.

    My expereince of humility is closest to your phrase of “Humility springs from choosing to feel blessed and thankful”

    The only difference for me is that I do not chose to be humble. Instead it is my experience of awe of the world that I live in that results in my experience of humbleness. I view and observe the qualitites of beauty, cheerfulness creativity, health, joy, courage, kindness, perseverance, gratitude and forgiveness (among others) each day. I do not have to look hard to see them time and time again as they come to life around me, frequently in unexpected ways.

    These Loving energies and qualities speak to a vast and profound world I live in. They leave me with the experience of humility and thankfulness to be a part of it all.

    Thanks again for your note John…. Jim

  2. I internally struggle with humility versus being proud of my accomplishments and find myself not sharing any good news because someone may think that I am bragging. How do you share your excitement with humility?

    1. Jodi, as the blog suggests, I don’t know!!! 🙂 But seriously, I do think it’s about knowing your audience and having good timing. You know, maybe not sharing an accomplishment till we’ve allowed others to share about their own first!

  3. I’ve been told that I am overly self-deprecating. Though I’ve always just considered myself to be showing humility, is there a difference?

  4. John,
    Great points on humility — especially during the ‘campaign season’ (there a whole soapbox comment on the misleading term, campaign). And the sports examples are all too evident especially in pro-sports because I’ve actually heard commentators remark when there is a genuine humble reaction to an event.

    #3 strikes me as key — Humility is demonstrated in our words and actions – because it is a personification of whether humility is really a part of your being. I had a most interesting comment made to me by one of my former co-workers following a rather tough series of meetings, discussions and decisions. Out of the blue a few days later she said that I reminded her of a poem by Edgar Guest, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day”.

    Not being familiar with it a few days later found it on-line and was humbled beyond words. I’ve shared that poem with many since then and always get a positive nod, wink, comment or smile…

    Growing up ‘Minnesota Nice’ — it’s not easy to feel good about the positive nod, wink, comment or smile…because we’re often taught, ‘You know your Lutheran when you feel guilty for not feeling guilty’ (Thanks, Pastor Greg for that one)

  5. I struggle with this a lot on social media. While a lot of my “friends” are actual friends, a lot are more what I would call acquaintances. My actual friends would probably be excited for me if I talked about a new assignment at work or a big vacation that I’m planning. But, will others think I’m bragging? I was even self-conscious about posting that my father had died because I didn’t want to come across as seeking sympathy or attention.

    1. Craig, I know what you mean. Tough to be sure what to do on social media since it is soooooo abused by so many. Go with your heart – and gut! Sorry about your dad … I know from experience how hard that can be.

  6. How exciting, we are proud of you, happy for your excitement, happy for your accomplishments, thrilled you show emotion, ups and down, think your QBQ is fantastic, think you’re married to the sweetest lady, and have fantastic kids (and grands)….. whew…. now I’ve gave you reason to not be (what some must consider) humble. Stand up and shout about your blessings, this has nothing to do with being “humble”.

  7. Received this today from a QBQ! reader. Due to tech problems, she couldn’t post so I am doing it for her. From Jackie B:

    Wow. How timely. I find myself struggling with this. I am currently searching for a new job. In working with a career counselor to re-write my resume and prepare for interviews, he told me that he couldn’t get a clear picture of my work from the resume. This is also someone that I have known for years. As we talked, he had to push me to list my accomplishments. It was like pulling teeth! I downplayed everything. It wasn’t until he recited my accomplishments back to me, did I realize how much I downplayed myself. I was actually impressed. Then he said this to me: “I know you think this is no big deal because you are just doing what you do. But you have to realize what a big deal this is.” What a moment for me! I have taken humbleness to a whole new level. Humbleness is great to a certain point. But I think we all need to toot our horn now and then and be a little haughty!

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