Humility versus Arrogance

Life is full of choices. One of the choice we need to make is between “Humility” & “Arrogance”. It is not that the choice is between black and white. It is most of the time grey. While most of us like to be humble and modest in our day to day behaviour, its the effectiveness of arrogant people around us, which tempts us to review our choice. We sometimes feel that humble people are ignored and walked over. On the other hand, the arrogant ones are noticed and people do listen to them.

Many of my colleagues at work at all stages of my career have always expressed this dilemma in their life. Is it a good idea to be humble and ignored sometimes or be arrogant and get noticed always. I do not have a ready made recipe. But can share my learnings from life and its consequences. One can get away with arrogance as long as you are seated in a position of power in family, work or society. The day you give up your position, you are neither respected nor remembered.

If someone was to ask you to recall your favourite teacher in school, you would always remember the one who was kind to you and grounded. We never remember people who were pompous and arrogant in their behaviour. Life is no different. While it is true that sometimes arrogant behaviour may appear more effective in getting things done in the short term, nobody will every cherish your company in the long term.

Let us examine this phenomenon from various angles. The first angle is that of history. We adore people who were humble and generous in their thought and actions. We do not like to study about the arrogant and pompous types. This is not because we know either of them from the past. It is more because we would like to have role models who are modest and not abrasive in their behaviour.

If we look back at our work life, we will always cherish to work with people who are simple, modest and willing to learn and share with others. We may sometimes feel that they are not assertive enough but their humility bowls us over. If you are humble does not mean that you cannot be assertive. It means that you know where your feet are and are always willing to learn from your own mistakes. Pride is like anger. It can only destroy you today and tomorrow. On the other other humility is like honey, it will always make you a sweet person to adore.

If we look at our family and friends, we always like to be in the company of those whom we respect. We respect those who are our role models. Our role models are people who are grounded and kind. People who are humble will always be good listeners and effective coaches. Their actions teach others. Even if they do not actively coach anyone, others learn even in their company every day.

On the other hand the arrogant people spread venom. They may appear very aggressive and effective in the short term. But they spoil all their relationships in the long term. Their day to day behaviour repels people around them. Everyone tries to avoid such leaders. If given a choice, team members would prefer to join other teams rather than suffer in the hands of an arrogant leader.

The best thing to learn from kids is that they do not have to make a choice. They are natural in their disposition as in the photo above.

It is true that sometimes it may appear that humble leaders may look less effective. However such leaders are always better in the long term. Their leadership is sustainable and focussed on the future. They would never cut corners or look at short term benefits. On the hand, they may sometimes be willing to sacrifice short term gains to create long term sustainability of their people and organisations.

What would you prefer ?

S Ramesh Shankar


I would define “Groundedness” as our ability to keep our feet on the ground at all times  even after we may have accomplished something in life. This is not easy but worthwhile to try.  Most of us strive hard to accomplish success in life.  We study hard, play hard and work hard for success.  The moment we accomplish something in academics, sports or work we believe we have arrived.

It is true that we deserve to celebrate our success.  It is not fair to say that one does not enjoy the fruits of hard work.  If you have put in your best and accomplished something in life, you deserve to celebrate it.  You are entitled to share the good news with your family and friends.  However, it is important to realise that what ever one accomplishes is life is not absolute.  You have achieved something in relation to someone else.  It is worthwhile to remember that we have millions of others in the world, who may have done better than us in the same field.

It is natural to compete with others when we are young and strive to be the best.  But it is equally important to compete with oneself.  We have to remember that whatever we have accomplished in work or life is not the ultimate.  Let us assume that one has broken a world record.  But there is always an opportunity to break one’s own record.  The best never ever rest.  It is critical to remember that the best do not fly in the air but are always grounded.

If you look at the work place, the situation is not different.  One does not respect people who brag about their position or power.  We do not admire people who beat their chests to share what they have achieved at work.  We salute people who give their best at work but always credit others for their success.  They ensure that they are always grounded.  They are fully aware that they have to work harder and smarter to excel at work.  

Human beings are not respected for the weath they accumulate or possess in life.  They are respected for their humility and simplicity.  The people who have their feet on the ground are the people who accomplish more than the people who fly in the air.  It is important to be a realist at all times.  It is great to dream and work hard to accomplish your dream.  But it is vital to be grounded to move on after you achieve your first goal.

If you look back at history, the greatest people on earth are the humblest.  They do not carry their titles on their shoulders.  They do not wear medals on their chests.  They do not rest after accomplishing their highs in life.  They share their success with others and most importantly keep their feet always on the ground.  It is easy to stray and let your feet off the ground.  The chances of slippage are higher than the chances of success in the future.

You could dream sky high but have to have your feet on the ground.  As the photo above illustrates that the tree has grown tall but has its root on the ground.

Let us learn to be grounded always.

S Ramesh Shankar

Sights and Insights


An individual’s sense of self may be called “Ego”.   All of us have a sense of ourselves and it may be necessary to have it.   We all need a sense of belief and confidence in ourselves to give our best.  So, the word “Ego” per se is not a bad thing.  The problem comes when our ego overpowers us.  It is at this stage, we lose control of ourselves.   We act in a way, which hurts others.  Our ego is like the sun.  While the sun is beneficial to us, over exposure to the sun can cause all sorts of problems.  As long as we can regulate the exposure to the sun, it is always good for us.  Similarly, if we control the ego like keeping the sun within our fingers in the picture above, ego can help us build confidence in our self always. 

Let us look at how the ego impacts our behaviour in the family, at the workplace and in the society.  As a child, we behave normally and are willing to accept our mistakes and forgive others as well.  But, as we grow as adults, our ego bloats.  We have a larger image of our self as compared to others even in the family.  We start believing that other than us, nobody else could be right.  We want it our way or the highway.  This puts pressure on our own kids and siblings and considerable stress in family relations.

Now, let us move to the work place.  When we start our career, we are at our best behaviours.  We work hard and learn at every opportunity we get.  But, as we grow in our career and gain experience, we start gaining confidence in our abilities.  This is a good thing.  But as confidence transforms into over confidence, our ego takes charge.  We start believing that nobody else can be better than us.  Our interpersonal skills are put to test.  We get into more conflicts and ego clashes. Then, when we get promoted as a manager, we tend to believe we have two horns on our head.  Our pride overtakes our performance.  This is where we need to ground ourselves.  We need to reflect and learn to be humble as otherwise that may be the start of our downfall in our career.

If we move to the society and community, we start as grounded citizens.  As we prosper in life and career, we tend to gain power and status in society.  This power translates into arrogance and thereby we start ignoring others and believing that society depends on us rather than the other way around.  It is at this stage, some Good Samaritan has to mentor us and get us back to track.  At no stage in life, an individual can be bigger than an organisation or the society at large.  Hence, the earlier we realise this gospel truth, the better it is for us to develop as mature citizens of society.

Thus, we can see that “Ego” is necessary in life.  As long as we have control over our ego, it is fine.  The day our “Ego” starts controlling us we are doomed.  Ego has to enable confidence in us.  It has to make us believe in ourselves.  It has to propel us to deliver at work and in life.  The day our ego derails us and makes us arrogant, we need to hear the red herring.

Let’s manage our “Ego” and not the other way around. 

S Ramesh Shankar