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Humility for Leaders

Words have enormous power. They can make us erupt into laughter or bring tears to our eyes. They can influence, inspire, manipulate, and shock. They can build and destroy.

Some words have different effects on different people. One such word is humility. It is one of those words that are seldom in neutral gear. Some people love the word and all that it stands for. Others almost fear the word and interpret it synonymously with a lack of self-confidence or timidity.
We often confuse humility with timidity. Humility is not clothing ourselves in an attitude of self-abasement or self-denigration. Humility is all about maintaining our pride about who we are, about our achievements, about our worth – but without arrogance. It is the antithesis of hubris, that excessive, arrogant pride which often leads to the derailment of some corporate heroes, and public officials. It’s about being content to let others discover the layers of our talents without having to boast about them. It’s a lack of arrogance, not a lack of aggressiveness in the pursuit of achievement.
An interesting dichotomy is that, often, the higher people rise, the more they have accomplished, the higher the humility index. Those who brag the least, or not at all, are often the most secure and confident, and in turn, humble.
Humility is also a meta-virtue. It crosses into an array of principles. For example, we can safely declare that there cannot be authenticity without humility. Why? Because there is always a time in a leader’s journey when one will be in a situation of not having all the answers. Admitting this and seeking other’s input requires some humility.
Another mark of a leader who practices humility is his or her treatment of others. Such leaders treat everyone with respect regardless of their position (rank, civilian, community, etc.).

So, as leaders in the fire service, do you have humility or practice humility? If you do, great! If not, here are a few suggestions on practicing humility:

  1. There are times when swallowing one’s pride is particularly tricky, and intentions of humility fail, especially if we engage in a contest of perfection. If you find yourself in such no-win situations, try this – just stop talking and allow the other person to be in the limelight. There is something very liberating in this strategy. 

  2. Here are three magical words that will produce more peace of mind than a week at an expensive retreat: “You are right.”

  3. Catch yourself if you kindly slip into over preaching or coaching without permission – is enthusiasm to impose your point of view overtaking discretion? Is your correction of others reflective of your own needs?

  4. Seeking others’ input on how you are showing up in your leadership path. Ask: “How am I doing?” It takes humility to ask such a question. And even more, humility to consider the answer.

  5. Encourage the practice of humility in your fire service organization through your own example: every time you share credit for success with others, you reinforce the ethos of your constituents. Consider mentoring or coaching emerging leaders on this essential attribute of leadership.

There are many benefits to practicing humility, that is, to be in a state of non-pretense. 

  1. It improves relationships across all levels.

  2. It reduces anxiety. 

  3.  It encourages more openness.

  4.  It enhances one’s self-confidence.

  5. It opens a window to a higher self. 

So why don’t you give it a try, you have nothing to lose.

Until next time, be safe!

Jo-Ann Lorberis an Assistant Chief with Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue, Florida. She is currently the Chair of the IAFC’s EFO Section. She has been a member of the IAFC since 2005. 


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