By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
Spot quiz: Do you know why so many leaders in homes, workplaces, churches and communities have such bad reputations?
Answer: They’ve earned them.
Consider these statistics taken from a 2018 survey:
- only 30% of employees see their CEO as having the qualities of a moral leader;
- only 14% said their leaders almost always acknowledge their failings, and,
- only 6% said that their leaders ask for help in a way that exposes their vulnerability.
Meanwhile, the introduction to the study noted: “U.S. workers across all industries and occupations yearn for moral leadership from their managers and from those at the top of their companies, believing it will make their organizations better.”
Obviously, people in the workplace are hungry for stronger leadership – which is to say, they want strong moral leaders.
And if that’s true in the workplace, how less hungry do you think people are in family, church and community relationships?
Dr. Nick Martin, who leads Aon’s Assessment Solutions Group’s Global Products & Analytics team, says leaders need to be humble, but fear gets in the way. They can fear that humility makes them seem weak, that they lack confidence or decisiveness, or that they appear unwilling to take risks.
That’s unfortunate because “humility is actually crucial to being a good, effective leader,” he adds.
Here’s a look at why humility matters, how to identify workers with this critical trait and how to cultivate it in your organization.
Dr. Ken Blanchard, co-founder of the Lead Like Jesus Movement, says: “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”
I think he hits the nail on the head. Humility isn’t crippling self-doubt. But it is an openness to the possibility that you could be wrong, and that even if you aren’t, someone else could have a better answer.
Humility comes from a place of strength.
Weak, fearful people worry that their incompetence may be uncovered, that others may be smarter, stronger or harder working. Theirs is a white-knuckle existence of having always to prove their worth. Treading water in a deep pool of self-doubt, they have to project great, often boastful pride to cover their deep-seated fears.
They don’t inspire trust because they aren’t trustworthy – not even to themselves.
A head start
Jesus-like Leaders have a head start on being humble leaders because they know God loves them no matter what. There is nothing they can do to cut themselves off from the complete, full, unconditional love of God.
So their self-worth is never fully at stake, no matter how difficult the circumstances. Indeed, no mistake, no matter how serious, will cost you what is most precious in your life – the love of God.
With that deep-seated confidence in God’s love, Jesus-like Leaders can rise above any fears they have to encourage and welcome the contributions of others.
When you can trust your worth, you can trust yourself and others. And when you trust others, they find you more trustworthy. It’s a virtuous cycle.
The more you reflect on and embrace the fact that God loves you unconditionally, the deeper your roots of self-esteem will go. It’s like building your house on rock instead of sand (Matt 7:24-27, Lk 6:46-49).
Antidote to self-centeredness
As Phil Hodges, the other co-founder of the Lead Like Jesus Movement likes to say, “all of us are self-serving some of the time.”
With our self-awareness comes self-concern. We can’t avoid looking out for ourselves. But we can avoid running roughshod over others in our pride or our fear. We can do as Jesus said we ought to do: love our neighbors as ourselves.
We can be warriors for the good of all humanity.
Research by Jim Collins showed that the very best leaders are those people who lead with a focus on mission, not on themselves. Indeed, it is their humble ability to put mission ahead of self that makes them powerful leaders – leaders whom others want to follow, even to the point of self-sacrifice.
When we put ourselves first, those who we are supposed to be leading realize that they have to put themselves first too. That results in an organization where nobody is minding, nobody is serving, the mission.
No wonder such organizations suffer while others with more humble, selfless leaders thrive.
Make no mistake: proud, arrogant, self-serving leaders can achieve short-term success. But long-term success will escape them because their attitudes and behaviors will breed fear while stifling creativity, prudent risk-taking, selfless behavior and loyalty on the part of their would-be followers.
If you want to get the best from others, give the best of yourself. Be honest. Be humble. Welcome the help of others. And thank them when it comes.
You’ll be generating win-win performance wherever you go, whomever you encounter.