Walk in Humility, Defeat Self-Importance

humility, john g miller, qbq

That’s 15-year-old me entertaining my brother-in-law, Tom, and sister, Lucy. As you can probably tell, as a kid I was loud, verbal, boisterous, and high-energy. Witty and funny, too— the “class clown.”

So I thought. ?

My family used to laugh when I’d declare, “There’s no conceit in my family … I have it all!”

As they say, that’s all fine and dandy for a young person—but hopefully, this “self-importance” did not stay with me as I grew.

How does one tame self-importance? The answer is nothing new to you, but always worth exploring.

Arrogance and Pride

When I left the management training firm I represented after a decade of calling on senior managers, I really wanted to author a book titled The Arrogance of Management. But, alas, I didn’t think executives would buy it. ?

Ben Franklin said this about pride: “Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I would probably be proud of my humility.” That tongue-in-cheek humor states a truth: After making the big sale, delivering the project on time, launching a winning product, or landing a promotion, it can be seriously hard to show humility.

Becoming Outstanding

Yet that’s what we find in outstanding organizations and see in outstanding people—and outstanding parents. In Raising Accountable Kids we write:

“Humility and contrition are foundational to effective parenting, and it’s simply vital that we bring them to our families. A little ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong. I don’t know everything!’ goes a long way.”

On our parenting Facebook page, we recently asked this question: “How do you train up a child to NOT become ‘self-important’ in a world that seems to promote it?”

A good question—and a worthy goal for parents everywhere. That is if we want to raise outstanding adults.

The Dangers Of Pride

Self-importance is a phrase that has come to my mind a lot recently, possibly due to its presence on social media.

When we see professional athletes telling the world how to live justly. When we hear faith leaders admonish people for voting a certain way instead of just “preaching the Gospel.” When we see laptop warriors acting like experts in geopolitical matters, disease control, and election law, I am struck by the dangers of self-importance.

A prideful spirit, know-it-all attitude, and pompous chest-thumping generate negative consequences such as:

  • Driving people away
  • Damaging relationships
  • Shutting down dialogue
  • Causing problems to fester
  • Hurting others’ feelings
  • Halting further learning

Can you think of any other consequences of self-importance?

The Self-Importance Cure

Clearly, the only antidote to the character flaw of self-importance is good old-fashioned humility. In our books, we describe humility as the “cornerstone of leadership.”

How can one lead effectively when setting the negative example of self-importance?

From our work with organizations, teams, and people, we’ve developed these —

Five Truths of Humility

  1. Humility requires discipline and conscious effort.
  2. Humility springs from thankfulness.
  3. Humility is demonstrated in our words and actions.
  4. Humility is a learned skill.
  5. Humility is a magnet that draws people to us.

The truth is, a person may be the smartest person in the room, but no one is drawn to the person who knows it. We are, though, always seeking to be around someone with a humble spirit, the one who has defeated self-importance.

Are you that person? To be honest, this former “class clown” is still working on it. ?

What’s your #1 takeaway from this piece and how will you apply it? Share!


3 Responses

  1. Hi John,

    What a great article! You hit the nail on the head. I have witnessed all six of the consequences that you listed over the course of my career. Sadly, I’ve probably witnessed all six in a single day before and the ripple effect on a business can be profound. The frustrating part is that often times these folks will do fine for themselves, at the expense of others and the company.

    I always enjoy your articles. Keep up the good work and God Bless.


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