The entrepreneurs that I admire most share one significant trait: they don't consider themselves the sole architects of their success. They have the humility to recognize that many others have helped them along the way: dedicated employees who believed in what they were doing; mentors and advisors who gave generously of their time and expertise; loved ones who supported and put up with them; inspirers who served as their role models. They also know that while they worked hard, persisted and seized opportunities where others might have overlooked them, to some extent luck also figured in their good fortune.
Because the most remarkable entrepreneurs don't generally consider themselves remarkable, they tend to think inclusively. They want to make money, but they don't view money strictly as something with which to line their own pockets; they see it as a way to give something back to their businesses, their employees and their communities so all can grow and flourish.
What I'm really speaking about here is an intuitive understanding that success can be fleeting. As a result, the best entrepreneurs possess gratitude and a sense of humility. Consider, for instance, the inscription on the tombstone of Andrew Carnegie, one of America's great 19th century entrepreneurs, who went from being a telegraph messenger to founding U.S. Steel: "Here lies a man who knew how to enlist the service of better men than himself." But I'd argue that even Steve Jobs, who wasn't exactly known for his humility, understood that life was full of vicissitudes and that he did not stand alone. I think he understood it because he came from a humble background and he had a remarkably messy life. (He was adopted at birth by loving parents, but only after being passed over by a lawyer and his wife who decided at the last minute that they wanted a girl, and only after his biological mother initially refused to sign the adoption papers for the next couple in line because they weren't college-educated. She only relented a few months later when they promised to send her son to college one day. Steve's adoptive parents made good on their promise, and he went to college, although he famously dropped out after six months. And of course, he was kicked out of his own company.) Still, whatever his flaws, Jobs understood that he was only as good as the people around him, he surrounded himself with the best people, and he remained remarkably loyal to them--as they remained to him.
Of course confidence is essential for an entrepreneur, and confidence flows from a healthy sense of self, but there's a big difference between healthy egotism and that of the blind, bloated, runaway, abusive-to-others variety. That's why I think it's so important to stay grounded and be careful not to start believing your own press. To run a successful company, you need to hear the truth, and to hear the truth you need to surround yourself with people who will tell it to you. But if you've turned into one of those bosses who's a legend in his or her own mind, that's not going to happen.
That's why I think it's so vital to regularly take stock of yourself, and to put in place a series of checks and balances to ensure that you're not becoming somebody you no longer like. Try to remember why you became an entrepreneur in the first place, and the person you were when you first started out. Try to remember the people who helped you back then. And try to remember to perform small acts of kindness for those around you. Those little gestures can go a long, long way.
How important do you think having humility is for an entrepreneur? What benefits flow to those who possess it? What about the damage that can result in business when an entrepreneur lacks humility?