Humility Makes Sense for Business

One of the most rewarding things about work is developing people. While I believe that financial rewards are important (people have to survive and thrive), fulfilling a shared purpose is a greater reward for a successful career. This being said, it isn’t easy to develop people. Development is not something we command out of people (unless your in the military maybe). When dealing with more creative and intelligent people, you need to be able to appeal not just to the strength of positional authority but the mind and heart as well, which Jim Collins calls Level 5 leadership.

A level 5 leader has the qualities of the first 4 levels he identified, which are: Highly Capable Individual (able to do job), Contributing Team Member (helps team succeed), Competent Manager (organize groups to achieve specific goals), and Effective Leader (able to galvanize group to achieve a great vision), PLUS a unique blend of will and humility that’s necessary to truly be great. There are a lot of people with strong wills and a lot of people with humility but it’s the rare blending of these two that in a person who has the capabilities and management skills that make level 5 leaders rare.

My honest assessment of myself after reading about this concept was: NEEDS GREAT AND IMMEDIATE IMPROVEMENT. Since then I have been looking for new ways to lead and achieve, that not only get things done, but also develops the necessary trait of humility in me.

I came up with the following framework to explain the importance of personal humility, it’s logic, and benefit to the teams I work with. It’s not original in the sense that I draw from things other people have taught me. One of the benefits of not being brilliant is that I’ve had to develop ways to simplify things in order to make sense of anything. I just couldn’t understand stuff as quickly, as deeply, or as broadly as others. I needed it in a simple format just like I needed lines on the sheets I wrote on. This has actually becoming sort of a strength, the ability to make an idea simple enough to understand and execute, and has been beneficial for working with others effectively.

Let me take you through it:

1. Let’s start with a PROBLEM.

Let's start with a problem

Problems are opportunities in disguise. Knowing this, our job shouldn’t be to avoid problems but to wisely uncover them for the gem they’re hiding.

2. Problems have 2 common causes: Lack of Clarity of Objective and Incompetence

Two common causes of problems


What’s the goal? What’s our purpose? Why are we doing this? These are some questions that need to be answered in order to align on an objective. Many of our problems are caused by a disagreement in objectives or a miscommunication of the objectives. Having different objectives, even if it’s by mistake, will lead to a gap between results and expectations. Failed expectations cause problems.

Are we capable of achieving the objective? Setting an objective is one thing. Setting the right objective is another. Achieving the set objective is a completely different thing. Setting a goal is important but having the abilities, resources, and intelligence to make it happen, and actually making it happen are critical. Many problems arise not from not knowing what to do but from not being able to do what we know we should.

3. Let’s start with Lack of Clarity. We’re left with a few options:

3 Options for handling the causes

– I need to change (in this case, I need a clearer picture of the objective)
– They need to change (they need a clearer picture of the objective)
– We both need to change (we need a clearer picture of the objective)

4. If we choose the 3rd option (We need to change), we’re back with options 1 and 2.

Choosing the 3rd option means being left with the first 2 options.

5. Whether we choose “I” or “They”, we’re left with 2 options: “Change” or “Don’t “Change”.

Whatever option we choose, we end up with 2 next steps

4. If we choose “Don’t Change” we’re left with the following options:

If we choose any option with "Let go" we hit a dead end.

– I suffer. (Because the problem hasn’t been addressed)
– They suffer. (Again, because the problem hasn’t been addressed)
– I let go. (Meaning I leave the company, the group, or the situation that’s in a problem)
– They let go. (Meaning they leave or they let me go)

6. Choosing the options that include “Let Go” can only lead to the end of the engagement or a dead end. Choosing the option of “Suffer” leads us back to problems. 

If we choose any the "suffer" options we are left with problems again.

7. Choosing problems leads us back to the start of our decision-making process.

If we choose "suffer" we go back to the start because we haven't addressed the problem.

8. But if we choose to change, and we can truly only change ourselves, we improve and this leads to progress.

If I choose "change" then we have improvement and progress.

9. The process is the same for problems stemming from incompetence.

The process is the same for cases of problems caused by incompetence.

This simple way of tracing the decisions and end-results shows us that having an attitude that is willing to improve is important for progress.

Why would anyone not want to progress? I don’t think it’s so much the idea of progress that people don’t like but the risk of not benefitting from it that holds us back. This is selfish and stems from our own self-importance, which is simply pride. When we put our interests first, particularly our own validation and security, we will inevitably cause the roadblocks that prevent the success of others and ultimately our own success. If everyone has to change but we don’t then the people who keep progressing will outgrow us. If no one progresses in the organization then competition and modernization will beat us. But if we set an example of true humility that constantly learns, grows, stays open, and isn’t defensive, the hope of progress remains alive.

This is why, along with empathy and grit, I’m adding humility to the list of most important traits of a great leader. There’s just no way to progress without it during our tenures and beyond.

Humility is a highly logical assurance for never stagnating and never becoming obsolete.

About the Author

David Bonifacio Husband, Father, CEO of Bridge, Managing Director of New Leaf Ventures. #DB

One Comment
Discussions from the Community.
  1. Dominic George says:

    Hello, Mr. David. I came across with your blog purely incidentally. I find your posts to be very fascinating and some of them jolted me as much as when I first learned the ideas of Aaron Lee, of Ask Aaron Lee/ @AskAaronLee (if you ever come across with his blog or twitter). This particular post of yours is really interesting and to some level, practically eye-opening (if that makes any sense to you). Keep up the good worksnand inspire more people. Best wishes.

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