What makes a great leader? Is it their charisma, their ambition, maybe their determination? I’m sure all of those things come into play at some point. What about their natural gifts, the talents and skills that God has given them over the years? I’m sure those things play a part as well. But, if you were to ask me what one quality I think every great leader should possess, my response may surprise you. I would say it has to be humility! Humility, really, humility…seems like a weird, kind of passé, quality for a great leader to possess, doesn’t it? Well, what if I told you that the most prominent quality I see in the greatest leader of all time is definitely humility.
This thought seems to go against our way of thinking. We expect leaders to be ambitious and driven; we even look at their arrogance as just part of what makes them great. In sports, we want the best players to want the ball and all of the attention. We get upset when the best player doesn’t have the ball in his or her hands in the final seconds. We want our leaders to be anything but humble. Is that how it should be? I don’t think so. I think we have misinterpreted what leadership really is. Leadership, at its very essence, is the ability to inspire others, to maintain influence in the lives of others, and to help those under you achieve even more than they thought possible. Great leaders get the best out of their people and inspire them to be fully committed to the task at hand.
So, how does humility translate into leadership? Well first, we need to agree on a definition of humility. Humility is defined as a modest view of one’s own importance. In other words, not thinking too highly of yourself. In terms of leadership, this means that you put your team, your organization, and your mission, above yourself. This sounds like common sense, but it can be difficult to do because the leader is usually the one constant in a plethora of moving parts in a successful organization. In most organizations, the role players come and go over time, they just fill voids as the organization moves on toward its ultimate goal. The leader, however, is usually there from the beginning, and through the ups and downs. Over time, this can make you think, “Look at what I’ve done.” Now, we may never say it, but what that really means is, “This is all about me!”
The truth of the matter is that it is never about the individual. It should be about the mission. The leader has the unique privilege / responsibility of being the one person who views the mission globally. Most role players only view the mission in terms of their role’s impact on the mission. A humble leader is one who can effectively communicate the mission and understand that the mission is what is important, not their personal fame or success. A humble leader also understands that the best and easiest way to have success is to elevate their role players and make them feel valued and empowered. Jesus gave us a great example of what true leadership looks like. He selected His disciples, He trained them, He empowered them and sent them out, and He made them feel valued as He (the leader) washed their feet. Most leaders miss that last part. Most would be perfectly fine with their role players washing their (the leader’s) feet, but would consider it far beneath them (the leader) to wash their role player’s feet.
Humility is a tricky thing. It goes against our very nature. It requires us to, at times, lead from the back instead of taking the place of prominence. Humility also requires submission to something greater than yourself. Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, submitted to the will of the Father. His submission defined His mission. His mission defined His actions. His actions empowered His followers. His followers shared His actions and impacted the world for Him. Ultimately, it was His humility that made Him who He was. It took great humility to submit to death on the cross. It took great humility to give up His divinity, leave heaven to come to earth and pay the price for our sins. It took great humility for the Master to wash the feet of His disciples, and to love the one who would eventually betray Him. It was His humility that positioned His remaining disciples to do great things in His name and for His glory. Remember that it is God who gives success. 1 Peter 5:5-6 tells us to clothe ourselves with humility because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. It goes on to say that we should humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God so that He may exalt us at the proper time. Success comes from God! Humility, on our part, opens the door for success. If you want to be a great leader in you home or in your church, it all starts with humility.