When people talk about leadership, they don’t use the word “humility” very often. More likely, they describe a leader as strong or focused or ambitious. They would probably say the leader is confident or assertive. “Humble” may not ever come up, and if it does, it might not be used as a compliment.
But I believe humility is a character trait that every leader should value and develop. I define it as an everyday choice to credit God for our blessings and others for our successes. Humble leaders understand their place in light of God and others. It doesn’t mean that they devalue their own strengths, just that they acknowledge the areas where they need help. Rick Warren put it this way:
“Humility is not denying your strengths. Humility is being honest about your weaknesses.”
Leaders who are graced with humility:
- Are confident and comfortable with themselves, and feel no need to draw attention to themselves or their status. Humble leaders are not focused on showing off their strengths. They’re comfortable and content letting their work speak for itself.
- Have a capacity for self-evaluation and are open to criticism. Because they recognise and acknowledge that they have weaknesses, humble leaders are willing to hear constructive criticism and open to their own need to grow and change.
- Revel in the accomplishments and potential of others. With humility comes a willingness to celebrate the achievements of other team members, knowing that others’ success is not a threat to the leader’s own success.
- Allow, enable and empower others to shine. Humble leaders not only enjoy watching others succeed; they also do what they can to put the spotlight on others’ victories. Again, this is because they recognise that there is enough success to go around.
There’s a very old story, from the years of the Roman Empire, that reminds us of the importance of humility.
A general returning from a great victory in battle is greeted with great acclaim by the population of the city. They cheer for him as he travels in a grand procession through the streets, hailing him as a mighty warrior and leader.
But the general, aware of his own weaknesses and wanting to be sure he doesn’t get too caught up in the celebration, asks a fellow soldier to do something to keep him humble. So, as the procession winds through the city streets, this soldier’s one job is to crouch on the floor of the chariot, where only the general can see and hear him, and whisper, “You’re only a man. You’re only a man. You’re only a man…”
That general understood that he needed to avoid letting all the attention go to his head. He knew that by remaining humble, he would be able to keep growing and improving as a leader and warrior.
The great college basketball coach John Wooden often told his players:
“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be thankful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”
Humility is the antidote to the pride that can come from recognition and fame. By making an everyday choice to credit God for our blessings, and others for our successes, we remain open to continued growth as leaders, and give honour to team members when they succeed.