The Case for Humility

January 27, 2014

The Case for Humility

Humility is a vital ingredient for a leader. Pride, arrogance, hubris, will eventually lead you to ultimately coming off the rails.  We've all heard or even experienced the leader who, though gifted and talented, allowed pride and arrogance to derail them.  

Research from Collins, Irwin, and the Heath brothers has shown that most leaders involved in derailing are intelligent, hard-working, committed, and highly motivated people. But time and again, these strengths do not always guarantee long term success or protection from eventual failure.

And in every study, a case can be made for the more successful leaders being the humble ones, those who have the capacity to power down, especially in those key situations when a weaker leader is trying to power up. So, I want to give you some practical steps in guarding yourself from the dangers of pride, arrogance, and hubris, characteristics that have been shown throughout history to be hazardous to a leader’s strengths.

Before I do, here is another question to ask yourself. How much would all your relationships change if you adopted a posture of humility? What about our work environment? How much would it change politics? Or the state of the world overall?

I'm convinced that humility is the key to making the world a better place. The one great proof of this can be seen in the ministry of Jesus, whose entire life was characterized by humility (Matthew 11:28-29; Philippians 2:5-11). So, here are some ways you can develop humility in your leadership;

  • Practice powering down. This does not mean that you become a door mat or that you relinquish your position or diminish your organization’s mission or vision. It is a self-evaluation that causes you to recognize those moments when you are feeling superior, more capable, invincible, or untouchable. It alerts you when self-promotion overtakes the good of the organization or the people you lead.
  • Make yourself accountable. Don’t allow the press to become your gauge for success. Further, give the person the freedom to let you know when you are being over-confident, dismissive, over-bearing, and so forth. This is one way to keep you from the need to be greater than you are.
  • Learn to listen to others. Yours is not the only opinion or perspective that matters. I believe that a leader’s two great enemies are the people’s perception and expectations of them. One of the more effective ways of curtailing the way people view you and what they expect from you is to be open to listening to them. This also gives you the ability to identify with others.
  • Lastly, remember that the best leaders are the ones who serve others, not themselves. To be a leader is an awesome privilege. This principle is key for any leader who truly wants to affect their environment with positive change. Consider Jesus Christ. He is the consummate level 5 leader that Collins describes in Good to Great. He demonstrated a fierce resolve for the mission while maintaining a life of humility and service. Though his life was short, his example and teachings have affected the entire world for over 2000 years.
Pride can potentially derail even the best leaders and it can diminish their capacity to lead from their strengths, or even lead at all. Humility, is a powerful way to guard against pride, while at the same time impacting everything around you in ways that mimic Jesus.


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