(Originally published April 4, 2014)
When you think of humility, what is the image that comes to mind? For me, the word carries a loaded connotation.
Humility is the touted pillar of excellence, preached in equal frequency by the church and Corporate America. Biblical examples are shown in men like Paul, who commit themselves diligently to work that leads to their expulsion from society. Business leaders share the pragmatic value adds: when you substitute a “lead and manage” mentality with “serve and teach,” all the sudden employee engagement increases, revenue lines skyrocket, et cetera.
So why isn’t everyone humble?
When you only view the results, it is hard to decipher. Who wouldn’t want to inspire employees, impact communities, and create a biblical bombshell with the impressive depths of his humility?
So why isn’t everyone humble?
It’s the same reason weight loss programs are not making people jump off the couch and run to the local gym: behavior change is tricky. It requires a combination of motivation and discipline that is uncommon.
And honestly, who would want to be humble in today’s society?
Consider the advertising messages that are regularly pushed. Consider the icons that entertainment media elevates. Consider the values college students are taught as a benchmark for success: “Work hard. Don’t take no for an answer. Fight for what you want.”
If there is one message that I am constantly whacked over the head with, it is this: “I only care about your results.”
So when you look at the environment around the issue, when you look at society’s standard, and when you look at the expectations that are being thrust upon us, there is only conclusion. An individual stands to gain little from developing a posture of humility.
But here’s the kicker.
Humility is not about what you can gain. It’s about what you can give.
Humility is not a buzzer word to advance you to the next step of your career. Humility is not a buzzer word to make women think you are sensitive. Humility is NOT the perfect disguise for arrogance. Humility is a tangible sacrifice of your time, your authority, your money, et cetera. For Christians, it is the explicit recognition that you own nothing in your life (James 1:17).
I listened to Ed Hess speak recently. He is a professor at the Darden School of Business at Virginia. He said that the lack of humility (read: arrogance) is the root of personal and intellectual strife in business leadership. He also provided the solution.
“When you [engage with] other people, [a good leader] needs to make the transition between self-focus to ‘them’-focus.”
It is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less, in the full knowledge that the most uncommon, counter-intuitive thing we can do as human beings is muster the humility to care about someone else.
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