Believers should applaud loudly when culture finally embraces biblical truth. Sadly, the reverse is more often true. In most cases we're typically ignorant of truth when we see it. As a result, we're more apt to thumb our nose at it to resist cultural ideals from infiltrating the inner sanctum of church life. Such is the case when thinking about humility as a cog in the gears of leadership. Suddenly, in the new world of information and service, the leader must be humble.
Three books are central to my listing humility as one of the five gears of leadership. Of, course, as a Christ follower, the Bible is my basic source book, and Jesus Christ, the subject of the Bible, is the chief exemplar. His teaching is interlaced with the ideals of servant-hood, the lowered position from which his follwoers would influence their world and serve him. The greatest in his kingdom would be the servant, and he elevated children, salt of the earth citizens, sinners and tax collectors, and others of the lower elements of their culture to places of honor in his kingdom. His lessons were more than talk, too. Beyond the gospels, the letter to the Philippians established his bona fides as a model of the servants heart. Paul wrote, "...though he was in the form of God , did not count equality with God as a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself , by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8). And, of course, there are mountains of teaching in the other epistles to affirm the place of humbled hearted believers in the kingdom.
A couple of years ago, Macquarie University history professor John Dickson wrote "Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership" to affirm the traction leaders discover when they lead from persuasion and example rather than coercion. This book was a refreshing historical review of humility as a staple of ancient cultures and how the industrial revolution changed the methods of leadership in that world. His basic thesis moves beyond theological discussion and touches the workplace at many points. Most convincing is his belief that humility is more persuasive than status or position as a leadership gear. The workplace, in this kind of leadership, is more effective becaue the example of the leader is more authentic and compelling.
Jim Collins' "Good to Great" changed the look and language of leadership in many respects. In his pace-setting research of companies that moved from good to great over a span of years, Collins introduced us to the Level 5 Leader, the leader who guides his organization with mission, passion, and commitment and not with ego. This was a monumental shift as Wall Street adjusted from a manufacturing, production oriented world to the new world of information and service. A new kind of leader would emerge is this fast, sleek business environment. More to the point, general acceptance and recognition of Collins' work raised the flag that the biblical truth introduced in the Old Testament and affirmed in the New Testament, had moved into the executive suite of corporate America. Hallelujah!
Humility accomplishes some monumental action points in leaders.
(1) Humility permits the talents, skills, ideas, and preferences of people in the organization to emerge. Often the best people and what they bring to the table are overshadowed by the big personality. As a result, many of the most prized resources are hidden and neglected.
(2) Humility creates a genuinely productive work place. There's nothing more distructive to a group of people working than an ego on the loose. The humble leader understands the mission and aims at it. Colleagues and even subordinates can enjoy their work, even drudgery, when an ego isn't showing off.
(3) Goals and objectives can be emphasized when the leader isn't competing for face time. In this world the mission is more visible.
(4) Some studies indicate that retention rates zoom higher when the leader isn't always off on some ego trip. This is especially true when the staff is so technically specialized that new jobs are out there all the time, and they can move at willl.
(5) This productive work place develops a good reputation in the community and world, far more than the negative publicity of tyrants and despots.
Not long ago I went into a national furniture store close to our hme. When I went in the door I heard loud voices in the back of the showroom. Two men were screaming at each other. As their anics escalated, I saw them lunge at each other, then wrestle on the floor in front of the check-out counter. When they became aware of me, they separatd and rose from the floor. One of the men stormed out in a huff and said, "That's it, I quit". The other said, "Good, I was going to fire you anyway". The one I presumed was the manager turned to me and said, "You just have to kick some ________ every once in a while. Now, can I help you. ". OK, I'm guilty of judging him, so forgive me. He looked like a real jerk. I told him, "No thanks, I'll take my business elsewhere." I kid you not, the ladies behind the service desk applauded. This manager could have used some humility training.
So, it's been said hundreds of times and now, no one knows who actually said it first: "Humility isn't thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of your self less". And it works everywhere---at home, the job, the classroom, in relationships, and across the back fence.
King David new it, and Solomon. Jesus taught it. And, now, corporate America is embracing it. I'm praying church leadership is next.