St. Bernard’s Thoughts on Humility, Applied to Business
By Peter Mirus
When you make it a point in life to think about sound business principles and to think about sound spiritual principles, you are bound to notice obvious correlations.
As many readers know, I have been rereading In the Steps of Humility by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. This small book introduces a great principle: before you can ascend the steps of humility to true charity, you must come to acknowledge and understand all of your failings, i.e., to know yourself. You then purify yourself, and move to help others in charity (out of new-found compassion).
This is also true of business—in that sustainable upward growth is only really possible through a mindset of honest self-examination resulting in true self-knowledge and positive transformation. It is from this point that you build strengths that you can deliver to the market.
In the spiritual life, if you stray too far away from a humble mindset, you descend into pride and must relearn the truth about yourself in order to regain direction and positive motion on the path to heaven. In the business world, complacency and/or arrogance towards the market will eventually result in a setback—and similar restorative efforts will need to take place in order to regain proper direction.
In October 2009 I wrote an article called “Know Thyself (a Painful Process)”, which states that in business you must have the humility to see yourself through the eyes of the market/customer. I was reminded of that principle forcefully in reading St. Bernard.
All business leaders, even in a “business of one”, need to ask themselves: “Do I really know (or want to know) what is thought of my company (or myself) by partners, peers, customers, employees, etc.?” Keeping in tune with accurate viewpoints from others, however difficult, is key to maintaining the humility and respect necessary to have long-term success.