The Greatness of Humility
The 12th century philosopher Maimonides advocated that the “middle way” was the most harmonious way to live. Every character trait, whether it be generosity, greed, diligence, laziness, or any other trait, should always be tempered with a good dose of moderation.
Maimonides classic work Hilchot Deot explains this concept of moderation as it relates to anger:
Man should not be wrathful, easily angered; nor be like the dead, without feeling, rather he should [adopt] an intermediate course; i.e., he should display anger only when the matter is serious enough to warrant it, in order to prevent the matter from recurring. (Chapter 1, section 4).
But there is one trait that the philosopher thought did not deserve moderation—a trait that one should try to completely eradicate from his or her character: arrogance.
But what about our leaders? Don’t they need just a little bit of arrogance to drive them forward? Can’t pride sometimes be useful?
No. Leaders should not be arrogant or prideful. Leaders should be confident, strong, firm, and extremely humble.
Here are three steps to get you started on your path to humble leadership.
1. Flee from honor.
The language “flee” is different from “avoid” or “don’t pursue” in that it advocates actively distancing yourself from situations that will cause you to be prideful. Did you work together with someone on a project that was successful? Instead of emphasizing your contributions, make an extra effort to applaud and recognize the other person. Don’t downplay your successes, but don’t look for opportunities to be recognized, either. Fleeing from honor will help you learn to do the best you can do for the right reasons.
2. Recognize your talents as gifts. Go develop them.
When you learn to see your natural propensity for public speaking as a gift, you may ask yourself, “how can I use this gift to help benefit others? What can I use speaking for to be a better (fill in the blank)?” Talents are not just random things we happen to be good at—they are skills that we have a responsibility to develop because there are things that only we can do with them! Sometimes, your talents require you to lead in areas that are outside your comfort zone. A humble leader is one who recognizes when there is a void that only they can fill because of the unique gifts they were given.
3. Acknowledge your faults; take steps to change.
It takes an incredible amount of humility to admit one’s faults or mistakes. However, this admission of imperfection allows others to see that your path to leadership involves constant real human struggle. By allowing yourself to be seen as an actual human being who slips up, you are inspiring others to persevere through difficult situations. Inadvertently, you are also earning their respect.
One of the most difficult parts of being a leader is recognizing the situations when perhaps you are no longer the best person for a particular role. A humble leader is confident—they know who they are and what they are capable of. A humble leader also knows when to put their own pride aside and empower others to lead.
Hi, Margy – excellent post on humble servant leadership:)
You have shared three powerful eadership strategies here.
I think humble leadership is essential for effective leadership. If the leader is not humble (and we’ll know because he or she will either use your strategies or not), they are leading from their ego, which will always eventually fail them as a True North.
Leaders who do not practice humility are more likely to fall into logical fallacies and faulty reasoning, such as believing their survival is key, or that everything depends on what they do. Neither of these are objectively true, but leaders who believe them will act differently that those who understand their work and calling at that deeper level, which both leads to and suppports authentic behavior.
I absolutely respect humble leaders, because I have experienced personally the fall of a non-humble leader and it is a tragic and painful thing. If you are truly humble, one of your many strengths is the willingness to ask for help from others and to see their contributions more clearly. Can’t imagine working any other way now.
Thank you for sharing your insight, John! That is an excellent point about leaders falling into logical fallacies. I appreciate your insight into the “downfall” process of a leader without humility and am glad to hear that you have a great environment now!