Humility, Your Personal Brand and Success

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all my Irish (and would be Irish) friends – especially my wonderful wife Cathy.

Positive personal impact is one of the keys to success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.  If you want to create positive personal impact you need to do three things.  1) Create and nurture your unique personal brand.  2) Be impeccable in your presentation of self – in person and on line.  3) Know and follow the basic rules of etiquette.

As I was standing in line at the bookstore at Denver International Airport yesterday, a small book caught my eye.  I made an impulse purchase – and I’m glad I did.  Best-Loved Chinese Proverbs by Theodora Lau is full of wisdom on how to live a successful life and build a great career. 

I came across this gem on page 71…

The superior man does not think himself so.  His humility is what sets him apart.

I like this quote because I think that humility is an important building block of any personal brand.  A healthy, realistic self image is key to a strong personal brand.  Remind yourself of this the next time you are out performed (and you will be) and when you out perform others (which you will as well).

Don’t let yourself feel inferior just because you fail at a task or are not good at something.  On the other hand, don’t let yourself feel superior because you succeed at a task or are good at something.  Keep things in perspective.

I once saw a quote from Herb Elliot that sums it up quite well. In case you don’t know Herb Elliot, he was the world record holder in the mile run from 1958 to 1962. He said:  

"To be a world-record holder in the mile, a man must have the arrogance it takes to believe he can run faster that anyone ever has at the distance; and the humility it takes to actually do it."

To me, the dichotomies in this quote – arrogance and humility – capture the essence of self confidence and realistic self image.  Arrogance: ego, belief that you can accomplish the goal you set for yourself.  Humility: the willingness to do the work necessary to reach your goal. Both are present in successful people.

David Halberstam’s book The Education of a Coach is a biography of Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots and one of the most successful pro football coaches today. In describing Mr. Belichick, Mr. Halberstam says:

"Bill Belichick is not without ego – far from it. His ego is exceptional, and it is reflected by his almost unique determination. He likes being the best and wants credit for being the best, a quiet kind of credit. But his ego is about the doing; it is fused into a larger purpose, that of his team winning. It was never about the narcissistic celebration of self that television loves to amplify."

If you reread the above quote, you’ll see that Mr. Halberstam echoes Mr. Elliot’s thoughts on arrogance – the will to be the best and the belief that one can be the best  – blended with humility – the doing, the hard work, the focus on the ultimate goal.

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people create positive personal impact.  A strong personal brand helps you create positive personal impact.  In order to create a strong personal brand you must have a balanced self image.  Arrogance plus humility equals a balanced self image.  Arrogance is the self confidence that gives you the belief that you can accomplish the goals you set for yourself.  Humility is the willingness to do the work necessary to reach your goal.  I find that humility – the willingness to do the work – is the more necessary of the two.  The Chinese proverb at the beginning of this post is true – “The superior man does not think himself so.  His humility is what sets him apart.”  The humility to do the work necessary to succeed is what can set you – and your personal brand apart.

That’s my take on the importance of humility in creating a strong personal brand.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.


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  1. Great post, Bud!
    As a Christian coach specializing in stress management, relationship and communication issues, I run into this often. People think that I’m going to be all holier-than-thou or talk down to others in Bible-speak. But the truth is, I have the same struggles and successes as everyone else.
    For me, the greatest example of humbleness was Jesus Christ, who had all the power at his fingertips but did not let it go to his head. My goal is to live like that, both personally and professionally. It’s not hard to stay humble with an online presence when I’ve got plenty of people watching from all over the globe to point out my weaknesses 🙂
    Keep up the good work,
    -James T.

  2. James:
    Thanks for the comment. And you’re right. Jesus Christ provides a great example of humility.
    However, I have found that humility is an ecumenical concept. If you take the time to explore other traditions like Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism, you will find that humility plays a central role.
    All the best,

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