How Does Humility Factor Into Your Role as a Leader?
What I remember clearly is looking up from what I was reading and feeling as if someone had issued a challenge directly toward me. I was reading something—an article, a blog post, a page in a book; I can’t be sure—and it was one of those situations where I knew the words applied to me.
Spend one day, the words read, without using the words I, me, mine, or my.
An exercise in humility. Gulp.
Writing about humility is tricky. Who among us truly has it figured out? And if we have managed to discover two or three points with regard to living a life of humility, how do we talk about it without sounding like … well … the opposite of humble?
THE HARD ROAD OF HUMILITY
A few weeks ago, after learning I’d be writing in this space about humility, I asked The High Calling editors, “How does humility factor into your role as a leader?” Bottom line? Not easily.
“This is a biggie,” one of the editors replied. “I've learned the hard way over the years that if I do not lead with humility, at some point God is going to let me get HUMILIATED. I've been knocked down a few times from my lofty perch, and it is not a pleasant experience.”
Lots of us admitted we’re not very humble at all. Another editor responded, “I don't know that I'm good at humility. I can do false humility pretty well. But I think a humble person doesn't think more highly of himself than he ought to think.”
We vacillate, we admit, between wanting to be humble and then getting distracted by all the glittery things. “It’s a mixed bag for me. One moment, I’m in it for the right reason; the next, I seriously want to be famous.”
Perhaps humility is best learned when a good example has been set. “My mama did a good job of teaching and modeling humility when I was growing up,” one editor shared. “So much so that I have always seen any leadership role I've assumed as the opportunity to be a servant.”
In our roles as parents, partners, teachers, employers, entrepreneurs, writers, pastors, and in all the places God sets us as leaders, it’s good to remember others might learn about humility by watching us.
JESUS SETS THE EXAMPLE
And yet, it’s Jesus who set the best example, right?
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:3-8, NIV, emphasis added)
In my conversation with The High Calling editors, even though we admit we struggle with humility, we agreed humility is about servanthood. “I believe humility is being willing to set up chairs, even/especially when you're being paid to talk,” one editor shared. “it's following Christ's example of being a servant, not a star.” Or as Paul tells us in Romans 12:9-10, we should “practice playing second fiddle.”
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT?
While I recognize I may be looking for an easy out, the idea of practicing humility seems to be laced with just the right amount of grace. I think God knows I won’t always get it right. He knows that, most of the time, I prefer to be served rather than serve. And, he knows life is tailored to give us opportunities to practice being more like Jesus: we share a cubicle with a difficult coworker, we show up at church to find we’ve been “volunteered” for the least desirable project, we seem to attract the most difficult personalities to our small groups and Bible studies, we rarely get invited to sit at the table with the “cool” kids.
Whatever we believe about Jesus, it’s hard to overlook the fact that he was a servant, refusing to get up on his high horse, even though he had every right to do so. Instead, Jesus hung out at the table with the “uncool” kids. He traveled with the unsavory and reached out to touch those deemed untouchable. He took off his clothes, wrapped himself in a towel, and washed his students’ dusty, cracked, and weary feet.
Years ago, after reading the challenge to drop the words I, me, mine, and my from my vocabulary for just a day, I gave it a try. That little exercise impacted me greatly. I’m still no humility aficionado, and, every now and then, that exercise gets dusted off and put back into play. I practice playing second fiddle, and, each time, I pray the tone sounds more like harmony, and less like clanging cymbals.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Even as the hectic pace of the holidays begins to swirl around us, many of us are struggling to remember the humility of this season, when the God of the universe took on flesh as a barn-born babe swaddled in seed sacks. But Jesus' incarnation wasn't just a humble beginning. The entire life and especially the death of Jesus demonstrated humility. How do we respond when faced with such sacrifice? Join us on Thursday mornings in December as we explore humility. And if you have a minute to spare between trimming the tree and shopping for stocking stuffers, drop us a note in the comments to tell us what living in humility means to you.
Other Posts on Humility:
- How Does Humility Factor into Your Role As a Leader? by Deidra Riggs
- Runner-Up: Lessons in Humility from Almost Winning by Dena Dyer