“Humility is to make a right estimate of oneself.”
— Charles H. Spurgeon
Humility in leadership is incredibly important. A humble leader is someone who does not think too highly of themselves, gives credit where credit is due, and is secure in their position. People naturally trust a humble person because it’s hard to not like someone who treats them like a humble person does; I think everyone can agree that a humble leader is typically a pleasure to work with. However, humility is not easy to come by.
Humble people don’t go around shouting about how humble they are, so it takes a keen eye to spot someone who is humble. Even so, humility is not an easy trait to maintain. I can say from experience (even in myself) that the number one issue in leadership is leaders who are not humble and make no attempt to be. The worst part is that I don’t think it’s intentional; it’s just that a lot of the time, leaders are just unaware of this character trait. It’s much easier to think highly of one’s own ability, to keep credit even if it’s due elsewhere, and to grasp tightly to one’s formal position in insecurity.
Here I can use an example about my own leadership. One of my very first formal positions of leadership was to lead and direct the youth musicians of my church. If you’ve met a musician, you know the typical ego that is associated with musicianship; put me in charge and now I’m the chief egotist. It’s not easy managing so many egos and opinions and even more so when an angst-filled teenager is leading other angst-filled teenagers. Admittedly, I feel I did a pretty good job for my first leadership role (not everyone left the church), but I fell short in too many areas. First, I was unable to check my ego and allowed my position to dictate decisions. Second, I was closed to criticism and feedback (unless I liked the person). Third, I ignored feelings when talking to people, felt that emotions meant mutinous behavior, and that musicians better than myself were all vying for my position.
What my first flaw created was an environment where I expected everyone to be humble while I alone could be haughty; my second flaw created an environment where my opinion was the only opinion that mattered; and my third flaw created a toxic environment where people felt mistreated and untrusted. Thankfully, (I think) everyone has forgiven me of my tyrannical reign over the youth band and we all survived the ordeal in our fragile teen years. Unfortunately for me, it took outside forces to humble me and teach me what it really means to lead.
Humility is very important, but it is very difficult to nurture. Even though it is difficult, the effort it takes to humble yourself (however that looks for you) pays off huge dividends with your people in the form of trust and buy-in – and quickly!