Humility - the trait that we appreciate in someone else but struggle with in our own life. Humility is a concept frequently talked about in Christian faith, but it is hard to put practical actions to it.

Without further ado, here is the latest installment from Peggy's leadership series. Be sure to let us know what you liked about this article, and please share this with someone who you think would appreciate it.

Why is humility essential for leadership?

This has been a process to produce an article on humility. Humility really isn’t the first thing that comes to our mind when we think of leadership. Yet, we see in Scripture and many leadership studies that have shown it is one of the most important characteristics of being a leader.

I recently read a quote by Andrew Murray on humility. He states,

“Humility is simply the disposition which prepares the soul for living on trust.”

I have thought about humility a lot these past few weeks and I believe that humility in leadership is not so much about leading as it is about following.

  • Humility is revealed when we can learn from God’s Word, follow God’s Word and live a life that reflects God’s Word in love, respect, truth and service to God and others. (Proverbs 3:5-8)
  • Humility is revealed in our lives when we see God as bigger than ourselves and respect others as His creation. (Gen. 1:1-27)
  • Humility in leadership is about desperate dependence on Jesus and serving with a heart of trust and obedience. (Phil 2:1-11)
  • Humility is revealed when we recognize that we are not here to be served but to serve God and others in a way that the world will see Jesus. Jesus did not come to this earth to be served but to serve others. (Matt.20:25-28)

Being great in God’s Kingdom does not come from high positions of leadership or authority. Greatness in God’s eyes is seen through humble service. The goal of godly leadership is serving with a humble heart. Humility is revealed in a leader when we are serving God and serving others. Humility is offering up our lives for others to see the love of Christ, for them, in us.

Humility in leadership is seeing your team as God’s chosen team for you. It is putting your team first and being available to listen and care when times are difficult in their professional or personal lives.

Humility in leadership is investing in the next generation through mentoring or coaching a younger leader. It means seeing the gifts and talents of other young leaders as unique gifts from God and encouraging the next generation to study God’s Word and use their gifts and talents to serve with a heart of humility.

I have had the wonderful honor to meet and serve with some of the humblest leaders, in church, nonprofit ministry, and the secular world. These men and women have been true mentors to me in my leadership over the years. I have come to realize that the common thread of each of these leaders is the willingness to put others before themselves. It is an attitude of submission and surrender to God’s will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Seeing and serving others as God beloved creation.

I have seen and served with men and women who have very powerful, influential positions but never mention themselves in conversations. These leaders are always more interested in the person they are talking to than talking about themselves. They always make you feel like you are the most important person in the room.

Do you know a leader with those kinds of humble qualities? How has their leadership affected your leadership style and service?

As Christians, what can we learn about humble leadership from Scripture?

God is opposed to the proud. This is the truth of Scripture. We read many stories of God’s judgment on prideful leaders throughout the Old and New Testaments. A biblical reality is that pride leads to destruction. God hates the proud, will not help the proud and will judge the proud.

(II Samuel 22:28; II Chronicles 26:16; 32:25; Psalm 18:27; 101:5; 40:4; 94:2; Proverbs 6:12; 8:13; 11:2; 15:25; 16:18; 18:12; 21:4; 29:23; Isaiah 2:11-17; 3:16; 5:15; 9:9; 13:11; 16:6; 25:11; 28:3; Jeremiah 48:29; Ezekiel 7:20; 16:50; 28:2; 30:6, 18; 31:10; 33:28; Daniel 4:37; Zechariah 10:11; Amos 6:8; Luke 1:51; Acts 12:23).

Humility in leadership begins with a clear understanding of the gospel. Only when we can fully grasp our sin before God and His grace toward us will we see progress in our humility in leadership. Understanding God’s grace toward us makes us leaders who forgive and offer grace to others. A true heart of a leader that is surrendered fully to the gospel realizes that our competency and sufficiency in leadership comes from God alone.

"Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God." - 2 Cor. 3:5 NIV

What is the difference between humility and self-esteem?

Humility and self-esteem are directly opposing, in my opinion. The word esteem itself means that we are putting ourselves above others. I believe a better way to describe godly humility is to say, humility is having a good understanding of our self-worth and self-image found in Christ alone. A godly self-image is when we truly see ourselves as God sees us, holy and beloved. We live our lives with a confidence that God has a plan to use our lives, in unique ways, so others will come to know Jesus (Psalm 139; Jer. 29:11).

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." - Romans 12:3

What are some practical tips for being humble?

  • Study God’s Word for yourself and don’t lean on your own understanding, ask for help and guidance (Proverbs 3:5-8).
  • Offer up your gifts to the Lord and serve with a heart of surrender and sacrifice to God’s ways (Romans 12:1-21).
  • Be quick to confess, forgive and ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:9).
  • Be a good follower that is faithful, truthful, supportive and encouraging to the leadership (1 Cor. 13:4-8).
  • Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger (James 1:19).
  • Always look to Jesus and the cross. (Mark 10:45)

What is one thought you want to leave us with about humility?

I leave you with God’s Word that is never changing and always true to meditate on for humility in leadership.

Col. 3:12-13

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.

Phil 2:1-11

Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

John 12:49-50

For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.

We hope you enjoyed this installment of the leadership series! Let us know what you think. If you would like to read more, you can check out the previous entries.

Further Reading

  • “Leading in Love” (link)
  • “Vision and Mission for Christian Women” (link)