Is a Humble Leader Possible?

“There is no smaller package in the world than a man wrapped up in himself.”

William Sloan Coffin 

“First pride, then the crash. The bigger the ego the harder the fall.”

Proverbs 16.18, The Message


The typical leadership discussion revolves around a model that flourishes with entrepreneurial style. It commonly focuses on the personality or the objectives of a single, strong, charismatic individual. It’s a model based on power: the power to influence, the power to make things happen, and the power to control. And sadly, much of the leadership we see exhibited in churches and other ministries takes its cue from this example. All too often we see Christian leaders leading through manipulation, browbeating, intimidation or coercion. We observe the misuse of power and authority as selfish ambitions are coated with a thin veneer of spirituality. The perks of Christian leadership are almost the same as those of the world with privileges seen as rights and benefits viewed as expectations. The result is that our ambitions go unchecked as we constantly pursue the bigger, faster, newer, latest and more expensive.

Of all the leadership characteristics, traits and qualities at our disposal, humility seems to be the least attractive and least pursued. A look at the contemporary leadership landscape does not seem to reveal humility as a value worth pursuing or developing. Humility is contrary to conventional thinking as Donald Trump and the would-be entrepreneurs of “The Apprentice” have yet to discuss the virtues of humility in the boardroom. In fact quite the opposite is true. Bravado and boasting confidence seem to be leadership qualities the secular world values. As former U.S. ambassador Richard Capen has observed: “Being humble is not commercially viable. It does not sell product. It does not attract media attention.”

While successful leadership in the secular arena may be equated with confidence, self-assurance, power and prestige tucked in to Numbers 12.3 is a fascinating observation of Moses. It says simply that the great Hebrew leader that led Israel out of Egyptian bondage into emancipation “…was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.”

Leaders, especially those that identify themselves as Christians, must set the standard when it comes to integrity, character and humble leadership. God has entrusted leaders with the privilege of influence and developing others for eternity’s sake. The world is addicted to recognition and speaks of leadership in terms of strength, power, command and leverage. In contrast, the Bible talks of leadership in terms of compassion, patience, gentleness and humility.

How do you know if you’re a humble leader? Here are five nutshell principles of humility:

1.  A Humble Leader Accepts Responsibility

A humble leader first examines himself before he looks to others as possible problems.

2.  A Humble Leader Promotes Honesty and Objectivity

The humble leader sees reality more clearly and is more open to honest feedback – even criticism.

3.  Humility Increases Teachability and Accountability

A humble leader listens and learns. He is accountable to others and is open to candid dialogue.

4.  Humility boosts team morale

People are drawn to humble leaders. Humble leaders pass around praise and appreciation which takes team morale higher.

5. Humility promotes and maintains servanthood

With a servant’s mindset, the humble leader continually focuses on the needs of others

During the American Revolution, a man in civilian clothes rode past a group of soldiers repairing a defensive barrier. Their leader was barking out instructions but made no other attempt to help them. When the rider asked why, the leader said with great dignity, “Sir, I am a corporal.”

The stranger apologized, dismounted and began to help the exhausted soldiers. When the task was complete, he turned to the corporal and said, “If you need some more help, son, let me know.” With that, the commander-in-chief General George Washington remounted his horse and rode on!

As a leader, the message you want to convey is, “I’m here to serve you, not use you. I’m here to develop you, not just plug you into one of my programs.” The leader that maintains that attitude of humility stays on the cutting edge, remaining creative, innovative, responsive and relevant! If we allow any form of pride to take hold, we end up focusing on ourselves, not on others. That’s manipulation, not leadership!

Stay the Course,

Dr. Greg Morris

This article is adapted from Greg’s book, In Pursuit of Leadership: Principles and Practices from the Life of MosesDr. Greg Morris serves as the founder and president of Leadership Dynamics™, a non-profit corporation committed to the training and development of leaders and their organizations. For more information, visit, or contact  You can follow Greg on Twitter at @LdshpDynamics




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