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Mar18MonHaving a modest view of your own importance can win respect. March 18, 2013 by Major Kathie Chiu
- Filed Under:
- Opinion & Critical Thought
A colleague recently sent me an invitation to join LinkedIn, a website for professional networking. I began to fill out my profile and answer the questions: “Where have you worked? What do you do? What are some of your skills and expertise?” People you connect with then have an opportunity to “endorse” you for certain skills, lending credibility to your claims. As I began to fill in the information it occurred to me that I was fine with answering questions about where I worked and what I did, but when it came to listing what I was good at and the skills I had gained, I felt a little uncomfortable. Why was I putting this out there for the world to see?
As Christians we are taught that we shouldn't think more highly of ourselves than we ought. The Apostle Paul tells the Philippians, “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” (Philippians 2:3-4).
How much clearer can this be? And yet, in order to get ahead in the workplace, you have to take a seat at the table, offer your input and let them know that you know what you're talking about. Even a job interview is an exercise in shameless self-promotion. This all flies in the face of how a Christian is supposed to behave. Our goal is to be like Christ, “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 …” (Philippians 2:6-7).
In recent years, however, there seems to be growing interest in the idea and study of the humble leader. Could Paul have been on to something? Jim Collins, in his pioneering article on effective leaders in the January 2001 edition of the Harvard Business Review, proposed that the “most powerfully transformative executives” surveyed in his study all possessed the virtue of personal humility. Recent studies conclude that people want to follow a humble leader. According to a study in the Academy of Management Journal, humble leaders are more effective and better liked. The study, by Bradley Owens of the University of Buffalo School of Management and David Hekman of the Lubar School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, looked into how humble leaders operated in the workplace and if they behaved differently than a non-humble leader.
The study also claimed that humility made some people more effective than others. If you were a white male, it worked. If you were a non-white or a woman, the study showed that you constantly had to prove your competence, making you appear less humble. When women, in particular, showed more humility, their competence was called into question. It's called a double bind—which accounts for why it's so difficult for me to list the things I'm good at or have accomplished. Instinctively I know what people might say about me that they might not say about my male colleagues.
Perhaps the definition of humility will help us better understand how we can embrace this concept. Humility is freedom from pride or arrogance; a modest estimate of one's own worth; meekness. From the Latin humilis meaning earth, a humble person is down-to-earth. It is not about self-abasement; rather, it's about not using your position of power for personal gain. Consider Jesus' example of selflessness when he offered to wash his disciples' feet, then knelt before them to do it. A leader who is humble:
- acknowledges the efforts of others and prioritizes the team's interests ahead of her own.
- is willing to be vulnerable by admitting mistakes.
- is driven to achieve for the company, not personal acclaim.
If you work for a humble leader, chances are you work with a happy and productive team. There is likely little turnover in your workplace and you celebrate each other's accomplishments. Your leader is also easy to approach and you often share your concerns with her. You have a good relationship with your leader because you know that she only wants what is best for you and for the team. Humble leaders want individual employees to thrive in their role, because when they are successful, everyone wins.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430) wrote, “Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.”
Major Kathie Chiu is the corps officer of Victoria's High Point Community Church.