Before his untimely death in 2016, the musician Prince was a behind-the-scenes philanthropist. He didn’t need accolades and praise for his good work. He gave private donations to organizations he believed in, often anonymously or with instructions to not publicly acknowledge his gift. Since his death, many organizations have come forward with stories of Prince’s generosity. He gave to environmental initiatives and human rights causes. He was a major supporter of #YesWeCode, a nonprofit organization that works with youth from underrepresented backgrounds to improve their tech skills. He championed causes he believed in, no matter if they were perceived as traditionally progressive or conservative.
Prince was a shining example of a humble hustler. Not only did he not expect praise for his good deeds, he also had a way of speaking to people, so they felt like they were on his level. He didn’t talk down to others; he didn’t demand the limelight. He was aware of his imperfections and opened himself to continuous learning.
The lessons we can learn from the late, great Prince apply to many facets of life, including entrepreneurship and leadership.
Today, many people believe they need to be loud and flashy to catch others’ attention and make an impact. They believe that to reach the top, they need to focus solely on themselves. According to Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, psychologists and authors of The Narcissism Epidemic, we are living in an era of narcissism. Through their research, they found that narcissistic traits have drastically risen over the past few decades, exemplified by an uptick in plastic surgery, a lack of empathy, and the rise of self-focused social media.
Why choose humility over self-importance?
Humility should not be conflated with weakness. Those who make an effort to stay humble open themselves to many opportunities that often slip by those who are arrogant. Humble leaders are often more self-aware, better listeners, and more inspiring than those who are self-absorbed.
Here are four powerful reasons to choose humility:
1. To Learn from Mistakes
Arrogant individuals have trouble admitting when they’re wrong. They place themselves above others and see mistakes as a sign of weakness. Humble individuals, on the other hand, dare to be vulnerable and admit when they’ve made a mistake. There is power in vulnerability. When we choose to be vulnerable, we accept our imperfections and look for ways to grow and improve. We learn from our mistakes, instead of trying to cover them up. And when we do that, we begin to seek other solutions, become more innovative, and carve out a space for personal development.
2. To Foster Deeper Connections
Humble individuals are well-aware that they don’t know everything and can benefit from listening to and learning from others. A recent study published in Cogent Business & Management found that fostering an attitude of humility led to greater social awareness and better relationships. This isn’t terribly surprising, since traits such as empathy, active listening, and a concern for others’ wellbeing go hand-in-hand with humility. When you’re humble, you put yourself on the same plane as others and create the space for deeper, more authentic connections.
3. to grow and develop
We are all imperfect beings, working and living alongside other imperfect beings. When we choose humility, we dare to admit those imperfections, and open ourselves to growth and development. Instead of seeing others’ talents and becoming jealous, the humble individual becomes inspired and sees an opportunity for self-improvement.
“What are my shortcomings?”
“What can I learn from others?”
“How have others succeeded in areas where I have failed?”
These are questions the humble, yet driven, individual periodically asks themselves.
4. to help others improve
There is a proverb that says, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” When you endeavor to help others succeed, that does not take away from your personal achievements. There is plenty of success to go around! When you focus on humility, you learn to truly see others and empathize with their struggles. This recognition of other people is the first step toward reaching out, offering help, and potentially mentoring them. Just as Prince mentored many budding musicians (including Janelle Monae and Alicia Keys), so too, can you be a support and a resource for others. Rejoice in others’ successes! Their wins do not undercut your own.
In an era of self-absorption and self-importance, dare to choose a different path. By centering yourself on humility, you poise yourself for growth, deeper connections, and greater empathy. Instead of sweeping mistakes under the rug, you endeavor to learn from them and move forward in a different direction. When it comes to humility and humble leadership, we could all take a page from Prince’s book and let our talents—instead of our ego—take the stage. As Prince says in his song Compassion:
The only gold that's so worth stashing: