On being HUMBITIOUS | Pocketmags.com

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Being humble doesn’t mean you can’t be ambitious. Hellen Ward discusses the virtues of humility in an industry where we’re often faced with demanding clients and boastful competitors

I recently attended the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) annual dinner as a guest of a friend who is a member. It was their first event in two years, due to lockdowns, and as such attracted great press attention, covered the next morning by several news channels.

CBI’s president is Lord Karan Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beer. He’s an awesome leader, mentor and entrepreneur and his opening address was inspirational.

Incidentally, the keynote speaker was the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and, while thanking him for the CJRS (furlough scheme), Lord Bilimoria challenged him very politely to do more to support UK businesses right now in these newly challenging times, pointing out that the war in Ukraine, coupled with soaring inflation, may damage businesses beyond all comprehension in this delicate and tender stage of recovery.

Working together was clearly the message, and Tony Danker, director general of the CBI, stated that a shared goal is a shared role – ajoint responsibility.

Networking at the event, it became clear from speaking to Lord Bilimoria that not many business leaders in our sector are members, so I have applied to join (I’ll keep you posted). Several things struck me about his speech. He spoke about his time at Harvard, and how he and his peers were taught the need to create a balance between self-belief and humility. He called it being “humbitious” (humble and ambitious). I’ve long agreed with this sentiment and it’s particularly pertinent to our sector.

Quietly capable

Isn’t it always the ones that sit there asking questions and express genuine interest in other people that also listen more than they talk – then absorb and use what they discover in their questioning? Isn’t it always the people who quietly get on with it that are ultimately the most successful? Isn’t it always the people that talk themselves up the most who have the least bragging rights, while those with a steely determination and razor-sharp focus might not be the most vocal, merely through not wanting to sound arrogant? Isn’t it true that sometimes it’s the quiet ones that need watching the most?

I’ve been in this industry a long time, and it never ceases to amaze me how many people aren’t really honest about their success, and certainly don’t demonstrate that most underrated of character traits: humility. Time and again, it seems that the person who shouts the loudest about who and what they are, how fantastic they are, what they are going to do and how brilliantly they’re going to do it, almost uses that very mechanism as a tool to encourage their self-belief.

But shouting about potential success is very different to quietly getting on with it and delivering the results. Perhaps the shouters even view being humble as a weakness instead of seeing it as the most wonderful and respected characteristic to develop.

No doubt like you, I’ve been in countless situations where I could have very easily dampened someone’s firework. It’s a choice we make. But we shouldn’t underestimate that it’s generally the shouters who are actually the insecure ones, not the “humbitious” people. We’ve all been at industry events with people who talk a good game but those who are truly playing a good game are usually quietly conscious of not shouting about it.

“HOW UNDERVALUED being self-depreciating is in this AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA and of treating OURSELVES as HUMAN BEINGS like brands„

How undervalued being self-depreciating is in this age of social media and of treating ourselves as human beings like brands. Lord Bilimoria pointed out that he has lived his career by the maxim “some people fail because of, some people succeed in spite of”. True grit and determination are the only real route to lasting success.

Staying grounded

He also shared that one of the most memorable moments he experienced in his peerage at the House of Lords was recently when President Zelenksy addressed both houses in the House of Commons and quoted Shakespeare to rapturous applause. “To be or not to be? …It’s definitely yes, to be,” he said, talking about defending his country against the invasion – surely the ultimate embodiment of being humbitious. “Right versus might”, as was famously Mahatma Gandhi’s approach.

Discussing the speech, a fellow guest pointed out that his favourite quote about business is from US automobile magnate Henry Ford, who famously said “It is not the employer who pays wages. He only handles the money”, explaining that the product and ultimately the customer who buys it pay the wages.

And isn’t that just as true now? It’s a motto that should be adopted by every company, in every sector, as should a focus on being humbitious as the key to being ultrasuccessful – certainly a more “zen” way to approach our goals.

This article appears in July 2022

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July 2022
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