A CEO filled up with fuel and noticed his wife talking to the attendant who happened to be a former boyfriend. After a few minutes of awkward silence when back in the car, the husband suggested she might be thinking she was glad to have married him, a Fortune 500 executive, rather than the other guy, a mere service station attendant. She quickly replied, “No, I was thinking that if I married him, he would be a Fortune 500 executive and you would be the service station attendant.”
Pride is like that; it catches us out and reveals the meaninglessness of much of what we gain by self-effort. By contrast, humility is an understated and rare commodity that, for Christians, taps into God to offer us one of the most important traits of effective leadership. It counters one of the deadliest and subtlest of sins; pride. James 4:6 tells us that God actually opposes the proud, yet He gives grace to the humble. Any Christian leader needs more than a fair share of that grace to lead optimally within complexity and adversity. Ecclesiastes actually suggests that in recognising the meaninglessness of much of what this life offers, and what we think we have, we then die to self as we discover this need to lean on God; we then fear Him (with holy reverence) and therefore keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Humility can express satisfaction in a job well done, and it certainly requires our diligence, but this is without overstepping into unhealthy pride in self-achievement. Death to self craves God’s empowerment and gives Him all honour for providing the skills, opportunity and resources that allow us to excel. Also, He never gives out graduating certificates from the school of servanthood that has the wellbeing and the growth needs of others at its core.
Humility, then, shows love in action by considering the good of others. In his book, Humilitas, Australian historian, John Dickson, shows this to be true of great leaders of the past. More recent examples from the company research of Jim Collins in Good to Great also reveal that so-called ‘level 5 leaders’ outperform their less successful counterparts by valuing others as far more than mere commodities. Jesus, Himself, demonstrates this humility in servant leadership that doesn’t compromise self to be a doormat for the needs of others, but yields self to be a means to the betterment of others.
Even our talk around people can reveal our humility or our lack of it. Does everyone really value our unsolicited or strong opinions, anyway? Instead, using comments such as, “I’ve listened to what everyone says, but I just wonder…,” or, “I’m no expert, but it seems to me that…,” may offer valuable alternatives, inviting others to discourse that will see them ask for and value our input at the right time.
Making a difference in the life of one person at one precise juncture can use a ‘kairos’ moment of time – borrowing a biblical concept – to great effect. The chronological passage of time can allow us to prove a life of humility, but a precise seasonal opportunity can actually showcase it. How many times haven’t my divinely-prompted strategic interventions and genuine offerings of personal support to individuals meant so much to those I serve, especially when they are Spirit-led, divine encounters? Nevertheless, these don’t always obviate the need for quantity time in the pursuit of quality time. Quantity time can be the investment needed to listen well, to study people, and to demonstrate care before we ever earn the right to speak deeply.
Conversely, though, how often has my lack of action (or my ill-considered action) missed the best opportunities to enrich others I have relationship with? Again, God’s grace empowers us to best serve people as we first purpose to move beyond our prideful self-interest to consider others more highly than ourselves and to also consider ourselves with sober judgment (Romans 12:3).