richie mccaw

Walking the fine line of humility

By Anna Campbell

Kiwis revere humility; we adore Richie McCaw and in the same breath, we don’t know what on earth we think about Sonny Bill Williams.

Regardless of people’s opinion, both stars are able to answer critics about their performances on the field and their individual successes have been undeniable.

In our work lives, it’s harder to demonstrate worth in the same obvious way; making a bruising tackle is so much more noticeable than a well thought out board report.

How often do we produce a beautiful product and humbly wait for people to buy it, only to have it stockpiled because we don’t like selling hard?

How often do we have a fabulous idea, get it to a certain point and, underestimating its worth, sell it cheaply or walk away?

Speaking to people offshore and asking them how kiwis come across in business always makes for a fascinating conversation.

Frustratingly non-committal is the answer that often comes back.

You see, in a business environment, what we think of as humility is often interpreted as apathy or non-commitment. Picture this, a Chinese banquet with equal proportions of Chinese, Kiwis and Aussies.

In typical Chinese style, the host gives a toast, speaks about his grand vision for his own company before paying lavish compliments to the guests; note that the Chinese host often has a business ten times the size of anyone else in the room.

This does not derail the Aussies who quickly answer the toast, full of energy and equally lavish compliments, while feeling even more full of their own fabulous business and what they can do for the Chinese.

Much backslapping and laughter results before the kiwi, finally stands up - several minutes later, and Richie McCaw style, clears their throat several times before mumbling a few compliments and vaguely promoting their own company.

Oh dear, so awkward, this whole toasting business, no need to boast. Who needs to go overboard when everyone noticed the great tackle you made earlier right?

This unneeded ‘humility’ is insidious and even when you’re aware of it, can be hard to manage.

On a recent visit to China, when I had worked hard all day not to be humble and put our best business foot forward, we were moving into the social, ‘more relaxed’ part of the evening.

A senior female executive leaned forward and admired my 'beautiful' pearl earrings… “Oh these,” I answered. “These are fake, they’re not real pearls. I picked them up for about 30 bucks.”

She was visibly shocked at my answer - why couldn’t I have simply said “thank you” and returned a compliment?  

Our environment and our culture have a massive influence on us and this weird need to be humble is a difficult tide to break when anything seen as self-promotion, or sales, is so widely condemned.

It starts early and I have been fascinated to watch my own children being almost indoctrinated at school with the need to be self-effacing and humble in order to ‘fit-in’, and I often wonder at what cost?

How often do we miss opportunities sitting back and hoping someone will notice us, our business or our products?

We live in a hugely competitive, global world. Our products make up a tiny proportion of world trade and we certainly can’t guarantee someone will notice or even care about our business.

We have to be better at marketing, sales and promotion. We need to make things happen for ourselves and our products. We need to be able to sell and promote our country, business and products without feeling like a “tool” (my son’s words).

I hate to say it, but can we channel a little David Warner into our Richie McCaw?


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