Work Hard, Stay Humble | 5 Reminders of Humility in Entrepreneurship


As Ernest Hemingway once said: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” This is true in all walks of life, but the benefits of humility in entrepreneurship are too often undervalued.

Humility, in essence, is the capacity to remain modest regarding one’s ability, circumstance, or situation. 

This modesty does not negate success, nor does it brag about triumphs. But it promotes self-awareness of the steps that brought a person or organization to where they or it is. Such awareness also recognizes that what is today could change tomorrow. Furthermore, modesty is shaped by respect and gratitude for the successes and failures that forged one’s current circumstances.

We’ve outlined 5 reminders of humility in entrepreneurship below. They will show how following these principles supports a foundation for success. 

What Are the Qualities of Humility?

Merriam-Webster defines humility as “freedom from pride or arrogance.” Others describe it as thinking and acting in ways that “express moral excellence and contribute to the common good.” The following characteristics also exemplify it:

Researchers have found a strong link between humility and flexibility, as well as other admirable qualities such as sincerity, honesty, and authenticity. 

Dr. Elizabeth Krumrei Mancuso, a research psychologist at Pepperdine University, defines intellectual humility as “understanding and accepting that what you know and believe could be incomplete or even inaccurate.” 

5 Reminders of Humility in Entrepreneurship

According to the New York Times, between 10% and 15% of adults score highly on humility rating scales.

Humility may be rare. But for those who possess it, it continues to shape their ability to steadfastly move forward with grace and dignity to each client and endeavor. 

People who practice humility in entrepreneurship remind us that we can achieve greater success when we follow these 5 basic principles…

1) Success Is Relative and Changes

Success is what you define it and changes along the way. Being mindful of past, present, and future actions help to understand what elevates and detracts from success. Learning from lessons and seeking input from trusted advisors helps to navigate phases of success. Leaning into new phases and refining actions to support success is critical. 

Learning from losses and wins along the way supports growth. 

2) Giving Before Getting Is Essential

Those who practice a “give more, take less” mentality typically have an invested, empathetic, and respectful nature in dealing with clients, employees, communities, and vendors. 

As Maya Angelou said, “…people may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Respect, empathy, and trust can help build stronger relationships that support success.

3) Admit When You Are Wrong and Move Forward 

One isn’t always right. 

Being able to step back and recognize that one is not right, that another idea is better, or there are other, more effective ways of doing things aids in maintaining a humble nature. 

The ego would love to stir up a feeling of emotional rightness. But it is essential to be at peace knowing one isn’t always right and being open to solutions, alternatives, and people that can help one move forward more effectively. 

4) Put Your Clients’ or Organization’s Goals Ahead of Yours

Passion may have got one into business, but clients help to keep one there. 

That said, putting one’s needs behind that of the clients may help exponentially grow the returns of both clients and oneself. Having humility puts one on the right path to building and maintaining strong relationships with clients, referrals, and vendors.

5) Give Gratitude to Those Who Helped Get You to Where You Are Today 

Acknowledging the game-changers in one’s life can start a reciprocal cycle of appreciation that continues through others. The key is to be aware and grateful for the encounters, experiences, and individuals that contributed to the successes and failures along the way. Whether one recognizes their contributions internally or acknowledges them by reaching out is a personal choice.

Why Is Humility in Entrepreneurship Often Misunderstood and Undervalued?

Charisma, vision, confidence, and a willingness to take risks are recognized qualities of successful entrepreneurship. Without these characteristics, entrepreneurs would struggle to overcome adversity. 

Humility in entrepreneurship shows that a leader has the confidence to listen to criticism without feeling diminished. This allows them to correct mistakes and improve, no matter how hard it may be to hear the advice. 

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, wrote that great leaders lead with questions rather than answers. They have the “humility to grasp the fact that you do not yet understand enough to have the answers, and then to ask questions that will lead to the best possible insights.”

Humble people can infuse their own knowledge with suggestions from others to make better-informed decisions that they are prepared to stand by with quiet confidence. 

Why the 5 Lessons in Humility Are So Important

Humility in Entrepreneurship Builds Goodwill and Improves Performance

Leaders who demonstrate humility in entrepreneurship often generate better outcomes for their businesses. Studies show that being modest about one’s achievements translates into an aptitude for building effective teams and getting members to focus on achieving common goals. 

In an article for Forbes, recruitment expert Jeff Hyman discussed research published in Administrative Science Quarterly that found humble CEOs can improve performance and empower their managers by listening to their needs and opinions.

Hyman also pointed out that Collins concluded in his book that dedicated CEOs who practiced humility in entrepreneurship and persistence enjoyed better results at transforming unexceptional businesses into high performers. That may be because instead of allowing their pride to get in the way, leaders who show humility understand they don’t need to have all the answers. This frees them up to identify good ideas and recognize the potential of talented individuals. Through collaboration, they build a consensus of the best ideas that benefit the organization. 

Those who show humility in entrepreneurship are more willing to take responsibility and learn from their failures and mistakes. As a result, team members feel more valued, regardless of their position in the organization’s hierarchy.

Hyman says that when hiring leaders, it is important to look beyond charisma and assertive personality and instead seek out “quiet confidence, humility, and a focus on others.”

On the flip side, a lack of humility leads one to overestimate one’s contribution to an organization, leading to isolated thinking and, as a result, missing great ideas and opportunities. 

Start-ups That Practice Humility in Entrepreneurship Benefit from Mutual Support

A study published in Science Direct found that humility in social entrepreneurship influenced whether business leaders sought out resources available to them through mutual support or preferred to go it alone and miss out on the benefits of cooperation. 

The study looked at Social Impact Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (SIEEs)—community-based systems where organizations committed to positive change help each other with knowledge and other resources. Those participating in SIEEs have better access to investors, mentorships, support organizations, and talent. Those overconfident in their ability to go it alone were less likely to benefit from the resources available to them. As a result, they were less effective at expanding their influence and achieving their missions.

Expressing Humble Opinions Earns Respect and Can Be More Persuasive

A study by the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin found that people who demonstrated humility when posting on social media were viewed as “more likable and intelligent,” even by those who had a different political point of view. 

Those whose comments showed they were open to different opinions and acknowledged the limits of their own understanding were less likely to face a backlash of counterarguments and skepticism. 

Humility Can Prevent Catastrophes

History is littered with examples of hubris leading to disaster. Not being able to listen and act upon advice can result in costly and devastating mistakes. 

Failure to heed warnings and listen to expert advice has been blamed for contributing to numerous political, technological, military, and business failures through the centuries. Examples where hubris has been attributed to causing avoidable disasters—or making them worse—include the following…

Final Thoughts

Humility reminds us to be modest, respectful, and empathetic to ourselves, clients, employees, vendors, and communities.

Humility in entrepreneurship has become a rarity. However, those who practice it appreciate it, and those who see it cherish it.

Humility makes peace with past, present, and future endeavors and exhibits an energy of maturity, compassion, and respect for what has been and what will become.


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Filed Under: Business Tips, Leadership

About Katie Carpen, PhD, Thought Leader

Katie has 14+ years of experience in higher education, consulting, recruitment, and mortgage finance industries. Her areas of specialty include change management, conflict management, corporate social responsibility, emotional intelligence, leadership, organizational culture, strategy, and work-life-balance. Katie has served as a relationship manager, associate dean, consultant, subject matter expert, and coach. She is currently active in higher education, coaching, and various causes. She enjoys fostering critical, creative, and strategic thinking by applying concepts across a variety of domains.