Humility: Servant Leadership
By: Krista Keil
Concepts are taken from Alexandre Havard’s, “From Temperament to Character.”
This month at YLF, students learn about the virtue of humility- its meaning, importance, and how to apply it in daily life. Through this exploration, a few realizations have come to the surface. Although humility is a word we frequently hear, its integrity is often underplayed, and the modern-day definition is routinely feeble. However, the virtue of humility is no small task; it is vital for effective leadership and a critical factor in building successful relationships. Thus, understanding the virtue in its fullness is essential to human flourishing. What, then, is the genuine meaning of humility?
Merriam Webster defines humility as “freedom from pride or arrogance.” I find it intriguing that the word “freedom” is used in the definition; if humility is freedom from something, it also means it’s freedom for something else. So what exactly does humility free us to do?
Simply put, humility frees us to serve. Ultimately, humility is the recognition that our talents and abilities are God-given, and thus we should maximize them. Humility cannot be detached from the notion that God is the supreme author of life; this fundamental concept gives birth to humility: our gifts are not our own. Humility acknowledges that every human person is created for a greater purpose; each of us is meant to amplify our gifts and serve others by harnessing our unique strengths. The more we embrace our talents and put them to work, the more others are inspired to do so. Because humanity is the capstone of God’s creation, failing to acknowledge our gifts is, in a sense, to deny the beauty of God’s creation. Our gifts only fully come to life when we use them to better our society and those around us.
To acknowledge our gifts, we must first become aware of what they are and become knowledgeable of our weaknesses. Thus, self-knowledge is the first step to acquiring humility. Without a basic understanding of ourselves (and others), it is difficult to identify a starting point. It is through gaining self-knowledge that the act of service springs forth. Once we know how we can best serve others, we can then equip ourselves to do so. The question then becomes, what does it look like to humbly serve others?
Channeling self-knowledge and service will inevitably guide an individual towards authentically living out the virtue of humility in daily life. If these core tenets are embraced, they will give birth to the art of servant leadership. Servant leadership is about inspiring and empowering others to harness their abilities- giving them the freedom to express ideas, use their creative capacities, and further their self-exploration. A servant leader uses their own gifts to amplify the gifts of others. Being a servant leader means giving others space and freedom to lead and equipping them to do so. Leading with humility requires an “others first” mentality; to give everyone a seat at the table regardless of their position or social status. In turn, a sense of collaboration is fostered. Genuine humility is about elevating others before yourself, letting others shine, and encouraging them to do so- even if that means outshining you. Servant leadership entails accompanying others as they learn and grow on their journey of self-discovery. As C.S Lewis says, “Humility isn’t about thinking less of yourself, but rather, thinking of yourself less.”
Understanding the correlation between humility and servant leadership enables us to distinguish between leading and managing. Knowing the difference between the two is vital for a productive and successful work environment and applies to all relationships. Management is about productivity and personal gain, and leadership is about serving others and having a growth mindset. Management is about power and prestige; leadership is about building others up and equipping them. Management limits people, while leadership empowers them. Management seeks to control, and leadership aims to promote human freedom. As Alexandre Havard (2018) says, “People are the primary aspect of business; people, not technology or finances, are the aspect of business with the most far-reaching and dynamic impact.” Thus, all efforts employing humility should be other-centric.
Ultimately, humility is the foundation of leadership, with self-knowledge and service being the primary components that lie at the epicenter of the virtue of humility. Embracing an attitude of humility will enable every person to magnify the capabilities of others before their own. Thus, a servant leader creates a culture conducive to learning and an atmosphere that encourages others to be the best version of themselves. I will leave you to reflect upon the words of St. John Chrysostom, who provides keen and striking insight on the virtue of humility:
“Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother’s progress, and you will immediately give glory to God.”