Humility is the New Black: A Millennial’s Hard Truth About Leadership and Bosshood

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I’m the last person to be the poster child for patience. In a city where everything and everyone seems to be in a rush (the Big Apple), oftentimes it’s easy to get into an attitude of haste and quick temperament.

As a young professional still strengthening my emotional intelligence (which is especially tested the further up one attempts to climb in their career), I know that many of my peers face the same challenges:

  • Being able to smile when you want to go off
  • Using level-headed strategy instead of fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants decision-making tactics
  • Avoiding a focus on taking professional things personal (even if they are)
  • Knowing how to effectively check someone without creating long-term (and career-killing) enemies
  • Humbling oneself to be quiet and listen versus just speaking up at will

(And no, this won’t be yet another blog or report bashing the attitude and perceived “arrogance” of millennials and young professionals.)

Learning from those you admire and using their strategies as a foundation to build your career is key, and there’s one common trait among leaders I respect (who have seen immense career success): A confidence grounded by humility.

It’s not that wall-flower, walk-all-over-me humility. It’s an underlying acknowledgement of the human factor of everyone—no matter status, class or position—and a truth that their own inner power and talents ensure there’s no need to diminish or be insecure about the power of another.

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, during a phone interview, thanked lil’ ole’ me for my time and for speaking with him.


Phenomenal host and brand ambassador Tai Beauchamp never emails me without a tone of positivity and gratitude, even when I feel she’s more deserving of those sorts of pleasantries from me (versus the other way around.)


Jason Njoku, millionaire and founder of the world’s largest distributor of Nollywood films (as well as one of Africa’s most well-funded startups), delayed his travel plans just to hold to his end of meeting with me to chat.


Dr. William Harvey, president of one of the leading educational institutions in the U.S., Hampton University, always makes a point to look you in the eye— whether student, board member or donor—shake your hand (maybe even hug you), and ensure you’ll want to visit the campus again.


I could go on and on with stories of humility among leaders I admire—and have directly interacted with—but I won’t.

There are people who still believe that their career receipts buy them the right to be rude, entitled, quick to anger or outright disrespectful, and I have even witnessed it among young professionals who haven’t earned or done much work to garner any such receipts.

Each time I am met by these personalities (or I read about them, or even hear about them), I’m reminded not to exchange the same energy and effort, but to, again, mimic the example of leaders I admire and approach those situations with a sense of …


Hey, I’m not perfect, but I’d implore any young professional seeking to make more boss moves in 2014 to incorporate this key trait in strengthening your emotional intelligence and leadership mojo.

#Soundoff: What key leadership traits do you find common among industry leaders you admire? Follow me on Twitter @JPHazelwood, and let me know your thoughts.

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