Humility Isn’t Easy

Excerpt from Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others

I was once being interviewed for a leadership job in a restaurant company.  The interviewer, a senior executive at the company, asked me about my approach to leadership.  I said that I developed teams of highly competent people with their egos in check because I believed humility in leaders led to better teamwork and better performance.  The executive actually leaped out of his chair and said: “that will never work here.” Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

In sharp contrast, I remember one of my bosses explaining to me how profoundly he was impacted by a chapter in Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis.  The chapter title: The Great Sin. The topic: Pride.

I went home that night and read the chapter. Over time, I have come to understand that self-centered pride resides in each and every one of us.  Humility doesn’t come naturally to anyone.

Our self-centered nature can be seen in a two-year-old child in the check-out line at the grocery store, lying flat out on the floor, screaming at the top of their lungs, fists clenched because Mom wouldn’t buy them a candy bar.  The child did not get what he or she wanted.  A temper tantrum followed.

As adults, we have an inner two-year-old. We know what we want, when we want it, and we are despondent, annoyed, and even angry when we don’t get our way. It’s not appropriate to lie on the floor and scream anymore – but often, we are tempted.

True humility is not a destination we are likely to reach in life – but I believe great leaders aspire to be more humble.  Humility is not being a doormat, it is simply thinking less about our own needs – and more about the needs of others.  When we do this, we exit the spotlight, allowing us to serve others well.

The Dare-to-Serve Leader values humility but admits that it is a struggle to be humble.

C.S. Lewis commented, “I wish I had got a bit further with humility myself.”

I share his view. I am terrible at humility most days.

But I know this to be true: followers appreciate humble leaders; leaders with the ability to admit mistakes, to apologize, and to be vulnerable in difficult circumstances; leaders that think of others more than themselves.

Avoid getting stuck in the spotlight. Consciously move yourself outside the light, and see the difference it makes in how you serve others.

Reflection Question: Think of a humble leader that you deeply admire. What qualities do you see in them that you want to be evident in your leadership?

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