Humility Breeds Success

Monday April 15, 2019
Ben Bergeron & Christine Bald

It takes an uncommon amount of humility for anyone to submit themselves to doing things they’re bad at every single day. It’s just not a good time. It’s even harder to do when you’re at the top of your chosen endeavor; a Regionals athlete, perhaps, or a coach at your gym.

When you’re in a leadership position, everyone is watching you. Expectations are high—you’re expected to be good at everything, all the time. An unrealistic standard, to be sure, but one that exists anyway.

It takes extraordinary humility to continue to work your weaknesses at this level, because it’s an admission that you’re not the best, or even very good, at some things. People don’t expect high-level athletes or coaches to struggle or fail. Some people will look at you and scoff. They’ll talk.

When you reach a certain level, it’s far easier to hide in your strengths because of the ego-boost they provide—you feel good, you look good and people are in awe. But it’s a trap; the moment you believe you’ve arrived at the door of greatness, it will be slammed in your face.

Humility is an essential component of success. People who can look in the mirror and identify their weaknesses are the people who grow the most. Business theorist Chris Argyris, in his book Teaching Smart People How to Learn, outlines why constant self-evaluation is the key to personal advancement:

Most people define learning too narrowly as mere “problem-solving,” so they focus on identifying and correcting errors in the external environment. Solving problems is important. But if learning is to persist, they must also look inward. The need to reflect critically on their own behavior, identify the ways they often inadvertently contribute to the organization’s problems, and then change how they act.

Argyris used these insights to come up with the idea of “double-loop learning.” Single-loop learners search for external factors why they’re not succeeding; they put it down to having the wrong coach, the wrong programming, the wrong diet, or the wrong people around them.

Double-loop learners look inward for the solution to problems that arise. They’re the kind of people who can take a hard look in the mirror and tell their reflection, “You’re the reason you’re not succeeding,” and then proactively change into a better version of themselves. They figure out their weaknesses, fix them, test, then re-evaluate; in the cycle, there is always a deep look inward built in.

In the long run, double-loop learners are much more successful than single-loop learners. If we have the humility to truly own our problems, we’ll be that much more effective at solving them.