First I want to start off by acknowledging that humility is not something I consider myself to be an expert in. I wrestle with it everyday and it is something that I am intentionally learning to embrace. I realize that the title “Humble Leadership” sounds like an oxymoron. But one thing I’m learning is that in order to be an effective, authentic leader, one must learn to embrace humility. We live in a society that views humility as a weakness, for the weak and lowly, for those who follow, not for those who lead. Leaders are to be strong and courageous. They are confident. This is true, but the problem lies with the idea that someone who is confident, can’t also embrace humility. I feel that the real issue lies with people’s mis-conceptions about what true humility is.
To properly answer this, we must first look at what humility is not:
a. Humility is not low self-esteem!
Just because someone has low self-esteem, or is insecure, does not mean that they are humble. Sometimes, the real issue with insecurity or fear lies more in an issue of pride than actual humility. The fear to fail is really a fear of how one may appear. At the core of this mindset is pride.
b. Humility is not denying your God-given attributes!
My personal conviction is that each one of us has been given gifts, talents, and abilities by our creator. These gifts are given with a purpose for us to use, cultivate, and ultimately flourish in. Denying that you have a gift or talent is not rooted in humility. It’s more connected with denial that leads to apathy and underachievement.
c. Humility is not seeing our selves in comparison to each other!
Many of us have the tendency to compare our successes or lack there of with those around us. We then justify and validate ourselves in comparison to how well others have done, or how poorly they have done. Our ultimate measure is, have we done the most with what God has given us? Have we been faithful stewards with our gifts?
Now to look at what I believe true humility is:
a. Humility is being able to admit when you are wrong or have made a mistake.
This is huge in today’s culture. People want to follow authentic leaders who don’t always put on the front that they always get it right, or have it all together. There is nothing weak in saying that you were wrong, or mis-calculated on this one. Admit wrong doing and learn from it. Learn what to do differently next time. You’re not a failure when you make a mistake, you fail when you quit.
b. Humility is acknowledging and celebrating success with those who have helped contribute to it.
There is nothing worse than the leader who loves to take all the credit for a successful accomplishment while many of their team members have worked their tails off to contribute and accomplish it. Jim Collin’s, in his book “Good To Great”, uses the analogy of pointing out the window to shower praise on all those on your team who have helped contribute to accomplishing a goal, and then looking at the mirror to yourself to take ownership when goals aren’t accomplished. For too many it is the opposite. We want everyone to look at us when something good happens, and then we want to point fingers at those around us when failures happen. A truly humble leader will not do this.
c. Humility is understanding your limitations.
This is probably the hardest one for me to deal with. I have the mindset that I have no limitations and can accomplish “all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) Because of this, I am able to accomplish a lot with fearlessness. However, God in His grace, continually reminds me that only He is God, and I am human. On this side of eternity, I have limits and that’s ok. To be successful in anything you have to be diligent, persistent, and understand that the Pyramids were not built over night. I believe that knowing your limitations will actually help you flourish more in your actual skill set.
St. Augustine – “If you plan to build a tall house of virtues, you must first lay deep foundations of humility.”
– How can you be more intentional about embracing humility as a leader?
– Are you someone who gives credit where credit is due?