Nerisha Maharaj - Exercising Humility
Nerisha Maharaj - Exercising Humility

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Nerisha Maharaj - Exercising Humility


Leadership power through the consciousness of humility

What does it mean to be humble? My first proper experience of humility was when I met Nelson Mandela many years ago when he had just been released. At the time I remember feeling somewhat perplexed as to why world leaders were saying that meeting him was the greatest moment of their lives. When I met him, I understood. There we stood, surrounded by his bodyguards and screaming, dancing students.  Completely unfazed by any of this, he looked deeply into my eyes, took my hand and with heartfelt sincerity said: “Hello, it is a pleasure to meet you”. I melted. And hours later, knees shaking, still felt completely melted.  Years later the impact that he had on me, like ripple on a lake, makes me greet all people with the same respect and regard whether they are a cleaner or person of perceived societal stature due to wealth or role.

In my life journey, I have encountered many famous leaders ranging from having dinner with Henry Kissinger to shaking hands with Desmond Tutu and engaging with Nicky Oppenheimer.  None of these meetings left much impression on me compared with my experience with Madiba. When I reflected on it after to work out how and why me, who has scant regard for celebrity status, was so utterly undone by this man, it dawned that what he possessed, what touched people so much, notwithstanding the greatness of his journey, were two very rare and precious personal attributes. These were a deep sense of presence and authentic humility, rare traits that are not easily found in the worldly context. He had the ability to be 100% in the moment, connecting human spirit to human spirit beyond roles and ego identities.

The Oxford Dictionary defines humility as having little or a low sense of regard for one’s self but I think that risks encouraging a mentality of low self-worth. Sagacious writer C.S Lewis captures the essence of the meaning more accurately:

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less”.

Indeed one can only truly be humble when one is secure in one’s sense of inner self-worth. It is the humble leader who cares about developing others.

Humility is also often wrongly associated with weakness. And yet look at the magnificent strength of Gandhi and Mandela, garbed in their simple attire exhibiting little concern with the wealth or fame of themselves or others, just absorbed in carrying out their vision to uplift others secure in themselves. Indeed there is a story that when Mandela met the queen for the first time, he ignored all protocol and warmly said “Hello Elizabeth, how’s the duke?” which she apparently enjoyed! The true test of humility is observing how someone treats others regardless of their status. It could be argued that an inherent sense of humility unlocks the ability to lead heartsâ€"a greater form of leadership than that enforced through fear. But pretensions are easily dismantled. So how does one go about cultivating authentic humility?

A powerful way is being open to improving ourselves as people.  Another is to realise the interdependence of everything in this world, an authentic sense of Ubuntu which means “I am because you are because we are”. In my work, I am very fortunate to encounter some wonderful human beings, many of whom quietly get on with making the world a better place in their own way, never truly having a sense for how much light they bring into the world through their humility, selfless generosity of spirit and simplicity.

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Ernest Hemingway

Nerisha Maharaj

Nerisha is a leadership and life coach and trained yoga and meditation teacher. She works with others to awaken their full potential and cultivate their leadership abilities.

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Nerisha Maharaj - Exercising Humility

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