Thursday, March 10, 2016

Whatever Happened to Humility?

Jim Collins, in his classic business book, Good to Great, detailed a study he undertook to determine what differentiated great, exceptionally performing companies from merely good companies. Initially he instructed his researchers to exclude considerations of top leadership, reasoning it’s too easy to attribute corporate excellence to the CEOs.

As the study progressed, however, Collins and his team determined key leaders could not be ignored. Their contributions were indisputable. It was what the study discovered about the top executives of organizations that had transformed into “great companies” that proved most surprising.

Serving a god carved in our
own image can be daunting.
These CEOs were not ones that had labored to become celebrities, constantly making headlines or appearing on TV commercials promoting their companies and products – and themselves. Instead, great-company executives were characterized by “a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.”

Their self-effacing qualities were affirmed by people who knew them, according to Collins. “Those who worked with or wrote about the good-to-great leaders used words like quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered…,” he wrote.

Even though Good to Great was published in 2001, its findings seem extremely relevant for today as we scan the horizon of so-called “leaders.” Today, it’s the loud and proud, bold and brash, that capture media attention, whether they’re politicians, entertainers, athletes or business leaders. If the personal pronouns “I” and “me” were banished from our language, they might well find themselves tongue-tied.

Many men and women in the public eye seem quite fond of the refrain from the old country-western song, “Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way!” They’re like a dignitary greeting guests with a handshake and the words, “It’s a pleasure for you to meet me.”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since it was predicted this nearly 2,000 years ago. In 2 Timothy 3:2 it states, in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers….” But this doesn’t mean we should shrug our collective shoulders and resign ourselves to such self-centeredness among those who hold places of prominence in society, resolved to set the pace for our culture.

The Bible proposes a distinctively different model. In fact, we’re told that determined efforts at self-promotion often backfire. “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor” (Proverbs 29:23).

Other passages in Proverbs offer a stark contrast:
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
“Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4).

We find no better example of humble, others-oriented leadership in the Scriptures than Jesus Christ. On numerous occasions, after performing a miracle of healing, “Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it” (Mark 7:36). Another passage points to His selflessness: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

We can draw two conclusions from these and similar passages throughout the Bible. First, in choosing the types of leaders we should follow, whether at work, our communities, or in public office, we would be wise to select people in the good-to-great mold – those that exhibit fierce determination coupled with genuine personal humility.

Second, we would be well-advised to aspire to become people like that ourselves, in our homes, workplaces and everywhere in our unique spheres of influence. There is something attractive, even disarming, about someone not preoccupied with self. And since people like that seem in short supply, it’s a clear-cut way of standing out from the crowd.

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