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Putting Humility in Perspective

The wise leader and former United States Congresswoman, Shirley Chisolm once said,“service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this Earth.” This statement enables us to reflect on the virtue of humility; while leadership inspires us to strive for greatness - the opportunity to serve is arguably one of the noblest reasons to aspire to leadership. As we learn about humility this month, we must reflect on ourselves and take an inventory of the talents that we each possess, and consider how we can improve the lives of others around us by using those talents for the greater good.

Humility is frequently misunderstood to be a way we ought to think of less of ourselves; however, we are of the understanding that humility is the habit of serving others, so not thinking less of ourselves but instead thinking of ourselves less. According to Alexandre Havard, author of From Temperament to Character, “humility means pulling rather than pushing, teaching rather than ordering about, inspiring rather than berating.” Therefore, leadership becomes less about displays of power and more about the empowerment of others. To practice humility in our lives is to bring out the greatness in others and to give them the space to realize their highest potential. With this definition in mind would it make sense for us to play small or cower behind another’s light to be seen as humble? Surely not! That behavior is more befitting of pusillanimity than true humility. Many of us were conditioned to believe that pusillanimity was humility. Simply put, pusillanimity is small-heartedness; it means intentionally hiding and not putting oneself in a position to be judged. There is nothing to be gained by living that way because it does not honor God any more than a prideful heart.

Humility should inspire leaders to seek the greatness of human potential. This work happens when we set egos aside and do our work confidently and with a loving spirit. You never know who you’ll inspire by being authentically yourself! This degree of humility has been modeled in the work of Teach for America, which has played a substantial role in bridging gaps between communities and empowering young people in the process. Teach for America was founded by Wendy Kopp in 1989, as a student at Princeton University Kopp was adamant in her thesis that young people were hungry to make a meaningful impact on the world and recognized that the education market needed a prominent, high-quality teacher training program to entice graduates into the profession. Since its inception, Teach for America has brought much attention to the “achievement gap,” among American children and attracted a new generation of leaders to a noble profession. During their time as TFA corps members, thousands of bright, young graduates share the best of themselves in order to provide better outcomes to the youth of less access and means. In many ways to be a TFA corps member requires one to embrace humility as they put others before themselves on a daily basis.

As we move forward in our respective walks toward strengthening our leadership potential, I’ll leave you to reflect on two questions. First, what motivates you to become a better leader? Next, how can you use your position to inspire those within your community or workplace?


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