The Truth about Humility: A Guide to Humble Leadership


In this third installment in my four-part series on character, I will share the truth about humility and why it is so important to leadership.

As human beings, we all appreciate humility when we see it in others. We like being around people who put others before themselves and who seem to be very much invested in the well-being of those around them. If I were to ask you, for example, to describe your favorite boss or favorite role model, I’m sure you would describe someone who exhibited humility in some way or another.

However, when most people think about humility, they often think that it has to do with personality. This is why humility is seldom associated with gregarious, charismatic leaders. I saw an article online that said that guys like Steve Jobs and and Elon Musk are not generally viewed as the humble type because they are so “out there.” I don’t know much about either of these men, but if the standard of humility is solely reflected in one’s personality then it’s a flawed standard.

I submit to you that humility is based on more than just personality.

So, what it is about humility that makes it so attractive, and how can we develop those same traits in our lives?

What is Humility?

Before we can talk about what humility is, we have to talk about what it is not. As I previously mentioned, humility has nothing to do with personality. Soft-spoken people, for example, are not more humble than those who are loud and charismatic. Also, humility is not something that you do. It is what you are.

To put it simply, humility is the opposite of pride and arrogance. It means not thinking of yourself more highly than you should and being concerned about the interest of others as much as you are about your own (Phil 2:4). Here are some passages from the Bible that help to clarify this definition further:

  • Before destruction the heart of a man is haughty, And before honor is humility (Prov 18:12).
  • When pride comes, then comes shame; But with the humble is wisdom (Prov 11:2).
  • Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, Than to divide the spoil with the proud (Prov 16:9).

I know this definition might be novel to some, because this is not the way it is often explained. In my experience, in the workplace at least, humility is often explained as something someone needs to start doing. Listen more to your team. Ask questions when you don’t understand something. Be vulnerable. All these things have their place, but they don’t make someone humble. Prideful people know how to ask questions, they know how to listen (or pretend to listen) when it’s to their advantage, and they can feign vulnerability to gain leverage.

When someone does something in order to be seen by others as humble, this is called false humility. They pretend to be humble in order to deceive others and gain certain favors and privileges. It’s a dangerous character trait that you should beware of in yourself.

A Guide to Humble Leadership: Three Tips

Now that we have a better understanding of humility, here are three simple tips, to help cultivate this beautiful fruit in your life.

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith (Rom 12:3).

In order to grasp this concept, you have to understand that you are not the ruler of your life- God is. You are not the center of the universe- He is. He is the one who created you and he controls every breath that you take. You were made in his image, which endows you with intrinsic value and dignity as well. So, next time you are tempted to elevate yourself above your fellow man, be reminded that he too was created by God. He is no different from you. He holds the same value and dignity, in God’s eyes, as you do.

The most important part of this first tip, though, is getting to know the God who made you, because this is where true humility is found. God is accessible to those who look for him with all their hearts. The book of John in the Bible is a great place to start.

humble leadership and humility and leaders infographic

  1. Speak evil of no man

Remind them… to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men (Titus 3:2).

The most dangerous weapon in this world is the human tongue. As small as it is, it is impossible to tame. A 5,000 pound ship is easier to control than the human tongue.

But, if you desire humility, you must endeavor to speak evil of no man. I don’t care how much someone gets on your nerves, speak no evil of him. If you have a problem with someone, then go to that person and resolve the conflict one-on-one, in private. If you must escalate the issue after this, then do so in a manner that contains the matter. And once the situation is resolved, move on. No need to gossip about it to someone else. Nothing is more cruel than gossip, especially when the person thinks that the problem between the two of you was already resolved.

  1. Stop boasting about your own accomplishments

Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips (Prov 27:2).

We live in a culture that is obsessed with self-promotion. You can’t go through a job interview without having to explain why you are better than everyone else who applied for the job. Oh, by the way, you have not even met those other candidates that you are supposed to compare yourself against. So how are you supposed to answer that questions accurately? You don’t have to make that mistake again- click here to learn what you should ask during an interview.

My point here is, learn to stop boasting about your accomplishments, whether at work or anywhere else. If you are that good at something, than enough people will notice and the word will spread. You don’t have to go around reminding people how awesome you are. I find that to be a trap, because you can easily become a man pleaser that way.

This does not mean that you can’t share your accomplishments. There’s a way to do this in a modest and humble way. Boasting, however, is an over the top display of self-aggrandizement. This is what I want you to avoid. Let other people rave about you.  

I hope you have found these three tips on humility helpful. Let me know if there are any others that you have found to be helpful.

Check out more in my Character Series:

Part 1: Do You Live a Life of Integrity? An Inside Look.
Part 2: Dealing with Anger? A Lesson on Self-Control

– Led by the Book

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