My interest in humility springs from personal lack and the certainty that servant leadership requires it.
All who aspire for servant leadership should make humility a supreme interest. But the opposite is true.
Just bring up humility in your next dinner conversation and feel the air rush out of the room.
Could our interest in self-puffing and our need for status be the reason we turn a blind eye to the essence of servant leadership?
God and humility:
Humility toward God, if you believe, is easier than acting with humility toward people. But even humility toward God has its discomforts.
As long as God is made in my image, humility makes sense.
Muslims and Christians should find humility easier than atheists and agnostics. But sadly, there’s an astonishing lack of humility in the ranks of religious folk. You see it in a haughty look, a cold heart, or angry belligerence.
Lack of humility:
The tendency to think too highly of ourselves takes many forms.
I experience a feeling of self-importance when a limo driver opens the door or a personal handler carries my bag.
I also know the feeling of defensiveness or disdain when an obvious superior receives accolades that I secretly hope to receive. “She’s not all that.”
Hubris enjoys finding fault. It’s a veiled attempt to assert our own worth or superiority. Somehow, if we can take someone down a notch, our status goes up.
Envy, coveting, gossip, and criticism expose an inordinate need for status.
Humility toward superiors might actually be fear and self-interest. But what about humility to “inferiors” or equals?
An exploration of hubris might teach us how to practice humility.
- Taking advantage of another’s frailty.
- Manipulating the powerless.
- Showing up to BE served.
- Misjudging yourself while harshly judging others.
- Seeing weakness in others and competence in yourself.
- Taking offense quickly.
- Expecting honor and status.
Practice not achievement:
My only hope for developing humility is the belief that it can be practiced when it isn’t felt.
The value of negative inclinations is they signal a need to act otherwise.
It’s time to practice humility when you…
- Tell a leader what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.
- Need to say no to an employee.
- See someone performing below their abilities.
- Experience impatience with learners.
- Shade the truth to protect yourself.
- Take offense.
- Feel puffed up because you just outdid someone. (A little humility in the end-zone of football fields might be in order.)
- Look down on those with less power, skill, money, or status.
- Lose your temper.
- View serving as an inconvenience rather than an opportunity.
The essence of humility includes…
- Seeing yourself and others as they are, warts and all. Humility speaks openly about weaknesses and gratefully about strengths.
- Acting with respect and courtesy toward those we view as inferior.
- Speaking the truth, even when it might bring personal disadvantage.
- Finding ways to express gratitude in nearly every situation.
- Helping others shine.
- Addressing tough issues with compassion. The idea that you must be harsh to speak hard truths is self-protective arrogance.
- Turning the focus of conversations toward others.
- Making space for others to speak.
- Showing up to serve.
- Seeking feedback persistently.
- Asking forgiveness when the offense is only 10% your responsibility.
- Giving second and third chances.
- Taking responsibility when a new hire fails.
- Acknowledging that YOU put someone in the wrong role when their performance plummets.
- Giving credit when you would like to receive it.
What does it mean to act with humility toward:
- New employees?
- Front-line employees?
- Successful employees or colleagues?
- Experienced colleagues?
- Mistake-makers and screw ups?
What if we include spouses, children, strangers, the sick and homeless in the humility question?
My goal is to distill and simplify the essence of servant leadership. I realize there’s a huge gap between simple and easy.
*I relax my 300 word limit on weekends.