Humility in Leadership

What does it mean to be a humble leader? All leaders are called to this reality, and no matter how hard we try, all leaders occasionally fail to remain humble. But leaders are also falsely accused of being “full of themselves” because of standing on convictions.

That’s the struggle. When I believe in the ground I am standing on, it is hard to know how to weather the allegations of pride while sifting through my internal struggle with the truth that I can be very prideful at times.

Here are some questions to ask about leadership the next time the heart of your leadership is in question — by others, or by yourself.

  1. What do I personally have to gain by standing my ground? Sometimes I stand firmly on a conviction because I care about being right more than because of the conviction itself. It’s possible I stand my ground because of the personal cost of letting go. These and other motives like these serve the self, not the conviction.
  2. Is this argument about the issue, or personalities? Many times people simply rub others the wrong way. In the best of circumstances we can misunderstand one another. Making sure the issue remains the issue, rather than the way we are communicating, is important.
  3. Is my conviction my real conviction, or is there something below that? I often don’t realize I have expectations of people or convictions about things until they are violated by someone. The real work of leadership is in distilling and clearly articulating the lowest common denominator of my expectations for those I lead. This is hard but necessary work.
  4. What is the real source of the frustration? There are a million reasons for someone offending us that have nothing to do with ill intent: words we use that have different connotations, someone’s facial expression, my physical well-being at the time. I could go on and on. When trying to be a humble leader, making sure I am willing not only to own the fact that I come off wrong sometimes (or often), but understanding that others do, too, is critical to effective communication, and therefore effective leadership.
  5. If I become angry during a conversation, where is that anger really coming from? It’s a hard life lesson, but no one is ever responsible for how I feel. To say, “You made me feel…” is simply not true. No one makes me feel anything. I feel what I feel. And for the record, feelings are neither good nor bad. They have no moral compass. It is how I choose to react to those feelings that says the most about whether I am a humble leader or not.
  6. Am I willing to be wrong? This is a sure sign that I am or am not walking humbly as a leader. How hard I fight to be right and how I fight for that same reality is largely determined by my level of real humility. Put me in a position where I am humiliated or look foolish and you will see quite well how humble of a leader I am.
  7. How well do I value people who I disagree with? Jesus says all kinds of things about how I am supposed to treat enemies, people who curse me, and people I otherwise don’t care for. We should actually perfect that kind of treatment of others and not simply make passing references to it. That could change everything and is a true mark of humility.

Micah 6:8 says that God has shown us what He wants us to do as acts of worship to Him: “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.”

I believe Micah is saying it is important to remember that we can be wrong sometimes, and how we handle that reality is important. To hold our ego with an open hand before God is critical, and it helps us be kinder to those around us, as well.

May we all have the precious moments of humiliation that lead to knowing God better and having a better version of Jesus living in us. And may we treat people well, even when they don’t return the favor.