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Humility: the “Secret Sauce” of Leadership

By May 8, 2019No Comments

“If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility. A humble boss understands that there are things he doesn’t know. He listens: not only to the other bigwigs in . . . , but also to the kind of people who don’t get invited, such as . . . . ”   The Economist, 26 Jan. 2013 

Why aren’t knowledge and experience enough? Why do good leaders need humility?

Humility knows that it doesn’t know.

Understanding and wisdom require learning from both experts and also those who don’t have a place at the table. The humility to recognize that our thinking lacks the perspective of others and our knowledge isn’t comprehensive is essential to good and godly leadership.

To listen well I incorporate two essentials. First, learning from experts through reading or conversations is a constant part of my life. (You might check out BOW’s free training resources.) Second, early on in my leadership I realized that I needed to evaluate everything, not just with my team but also with those we served. (Browse our articles on evaluation.)

Lack of humility is arrogance.

Whether we lead in our communities, homes or businesses, arrogance diminishes our ability to succeed. It cuts off rapport and relationship with those with whom we’re teaming to accomplish a vision. Leading from power is not really strong leadership, but it reveals a weakness of character which results in a struggle to produce a cohesive team. 

Jesus said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43b-44, ESV).

Humility blesses and loves while arrogance creates personal success.

Who isn’t invited to the table? Who’s missing from decision-making? It’s easy to surround ourselves with a small team of like-minded, supportive people, but it’s a trap in the long run because it cuts off the perspectives of others. To listen well is to love. To serve others, listen to them. Find out their stories, their needs, and their perspectives. At times it may be hard to hear, but godly leaders are growing leaders. 

I remember a day years ago when our evening women’s Bible study launched. We had registered so many women that we needed another leader. I contacted a trusted woman who agreed to do it, but I failed to discuss it with the woman who would be her coach. I just dumped it on her that night right before we started. She didn’t receive it well, and it affected our working relationship. In my arrogance my concern was to fix “my problem” instead of seeing it as “our decision.” It was a good lesson for me.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:8-9

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