I have spent many days and weeks submerged in the thoughts of great minds like Robert Greenleaf, C.S. Lewis, Hermann Hesse, Martin Luther King, Stephen Covey, the Apostles, and good friends who have shared thoughts with me about different things. Lots of thinking lately.

We’ve exchanged many thoughts and perspectives; it would be nearly impossible to describe the discoveries in just a few short lines of text. Nevertheless, one thought keeps coming back to me, and that is the matter of humility in the leader.

This is not so simple. I’ve had my own thoughts for years about what this thing we call humility means. Sometimes I’ve thought that I know what a leader with humility looks like. And I’ve heard many titular leaders and others with so call “expertise” in the matter talk about humility. Maybe we were all wrong.

Humility is certainly not meekness. Humility is powerful strength, and the more I discover, the more I see humility as the root of greatness.

Today, we consider humility as one of the greatest virtues, but others did not. Dr. Craig Keener[1] noted how many cultures, like the Greeks, saw humility as a form of humiliation. However, Robert Greenleaf, talking about servant leaders, posed humility as a strength because it opened the leader’s ability to receive.[2]  This is important because, if the leader is not pre-disposed to receive, he/she will be unable to listen, for example, to feedback; the leader’s ability to learn and grow disappear–no one can teach a prideful leader anything. Additionally, without a predisposition to receive, the leader’s power for discernment is thwarted. How effective can the leader be in sensing leadership issues in the organization when he or she is self-consumed ?

“Humility in the more powerful is ultimately tested by their ability to learn from and gratefully to receive the gifts of the less powerful.”

–Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership

Humility is certainly no touchy-feely stuff; it pays. Jim Collins, in his famous Good to Great book[3] and research, observed that “larger-than-life” celebrity leaders led no company who made the leap from good to great. Leaders with strong humility characteristics led all of those who made the leap. Humility truly create the conditions for prosperity.

Another power of humility is its ability to keep pride in check. Pride is one of the most destructive of human vices. Renowned author C.S. Lewis (also known for The Chronicles of Narnia) called pride as the utmost evil because it leads to destructive comparisons and unnecessary competitiveness.[4] The issue of having pride is not the problem—one should be proud of our opportunities and blessings. The problem comes from comparing ourselves to others and wanting to feed a desire to be upfront, above the rest.

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about a human need he termed the “major drum instinct,” the desire of a person to be upfront leading the parade.[5] He noted the problem is that the desire to become popular and upfront lead oneself to feelings of superiority. A pride-full leader will then tend to lead from a position of power and “will try to get more just to assert his power.” Leaders must rid themselves of this pride and power considerations. From it comes disgrace as the great King Solomon puts it.[6] Hence, no one wants to follow a prideful leader. His own self deceives him. Who would then help him?

The realization, for us who strive to be the best leaders and human beings we can be, is that humility is power. It is the ability to empty oneself of comparisons and destructive competitiveness. Humility is the ability to be happy with the blessings we have; there is no reason to boast because what we have, we have as the unintended consequence of giving our lives to something useful: service to others.

Always motivated, lugo

Copyright©2016 Jose A. LugoSantiago – Craft Your Journey!


[1] Keener, C. S. (2014). The IVP Bible Commentary: New Testament. (2nd ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] Greenleaf, R. (2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power & greatness (25th ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

[3] Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap—and others don’t. New York, NY: HarperBusiness.

[4] Lewis, C. S. (2001). Mere Christianity. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

[5] King Jr, M. L. (1981). A Gift of Love: Sermons from Strength to Love and Other Preaching. Boston: Beacon Press. 123.

[6] Proverbs 11:2, ESV