Is It Hot in Here or Just The Humility?


At the start of this blog I should point out that probably the best of my many amazing traits is humility.   Having spent a lot of my time comparing myself I find I’m second to none at it.  I’m brilliant at being humble.

So what is humility?

To describe and visualise what humility looks like can be quite difficult.  Humility seems to be very closely associated with religions.  Try Googling an image for humility and you’ll see what I mean.

Muhammad Ali, to many the greatest sportsman who ever lived, came across in the media to many as playful but arrogant, was determined to connect and reply to those who sent him a letter, even if it was just through a signature.  He realised his role as an inspiration.  He realised what he meant to people and just how powerful his actions were.

In line with what Muhammad Ali was doing, C.S. Lewis suggested that humility was “not thinking less of your self, but thinking of yourself less”.

Showing humility at times when it really matters is difficult for most of us, and one of the times it really matters is when we are supporting learners.

Whether it be in a formal learning environment, or just in those social learning experiences we find ourselves in every day, the need to acknowledge that we are all learners is paramount to progression.  Progress for everyone, including the person who, possibly accidentally or unwillingly finds themselves in the role of educator.

Humility in Sports Education

What does humility in sports education look like?  There are a range of things that we can do, many of which don’t come naturally to those of us who are competitive athletes.  These can include:

  • smiling when someone else does well
  • saying good job to the learners
  • acknowledging when some has more to offer than us.

It is difficult in the world of elite sport to show humility.  This is one of the reasons Alistair Brownlee’s support to his brother Jonathon, in the final 2016 Triathlon World Series event, was so touching and newsworthy.

It is important for us as developers people to foster the culture of humility in our learners, through modelling.  By us dispelling the myth that being humble is weak, those we learn with will become strong and confident enough to be humble.

Those of us supporting learners are hoping to provide the optimum environment for learning.  In many cases this is one which offers the opportunity to take risk and share openly without judgement or punishment.  Humility is central to this environment.

I once developed and delivered a session in partnership with a friend called the Ego Has Landed to fairly difficult group of coach educators.  The content was focussed on how to deal with difficult learners.  Those people resistant to the process, but keen to have the benefits of the end result.  It was a genuine attempt to support them with the learners they came across. It was also an opportunity to help them explore their own humility.   Unfortunately the number of educators who got the subtlety of the session was minimal, as was the subsequent change in their behaviour.  If we don’t get it how are those we  learn with going to?

Developing Humility

So what can we do to develop our own humility?  To support our own humility and that of others we can be:

  • Intentional – We can choose to do what we feel it right in different scenarios and understand why we are doing it that way. If appropriate we could share our intentions.  It will help those we learn with to become more tolerant.  As Stephen Covey said “we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions”
  • Relational – Be aware that we are developing relationships, not transactions
  • Mindful – We can be mindful of how we are doing things, and do them in a positive way. Shawn Achor has a great TED talk on how to bring happiness to our work.
  • Thankful – The more we can value our fellow learners the deeper our learning relationship is likely to go.  Thanking for contributions will go one step towards meaningful learning relationships and communities.

The development of humility does not need to be at the expense of individual drive and success.  Exactly the opposite.  An acknowledgement of what we can learn should help direct our energies in the best direction.  This might be working on our weaknesses, or in other circumstances, building on our strengths and outsourcing those area of weakness to those who have them as strengths.

Thinking about it I’m not sure humility is my best quality.  Maybe it’s decisiveness?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *