Ira Williams wrote a ChangeThis manifesto, Speak Softly, that I briefly noted a few weeks ago, prompting a number of great posts from Ed Brenegar here, here and here, as well as his November 28th column in the Asheville Citizen Times. Perhaps I can add a little to the conversation. (You will be the judge of that.)
Williams writes that for many of us, humility equals weakness – "however, …it requires tremendous strength and character to place others’ interests before your own." Williams sites Jesus as the primary example of the juxtaposition of strength and humility. He unpacks the definition of humility:
Most dictionaries use some variation of the following:
The quality or condition of being humble.
OK, so what does it mean to be humble?
One definition of humble is:
Marked by meekness or modesty in behavior, attitude, or spirit; not arrogant or prideful.
But we struggle with the word ‘meek". Even Christians seem to have a hard time with Jesus’ words (in the Sermon on the Mount) that the Meek shall inherit the earth. Meek is a Casper Milquetoast character – ineffectual, living life as a doormat. I recently heard a pastor attempt to counter this by stating that meek really means strong. He had it half right – meek can be translated as "strength under control" or "the opposite of self-interest."
The Celebration of Arrogance
But the American dream (as seen in the eyes of Boomers) is the fiction of the rugged individual, taming the wild west with his bare hands, taking nothing from anyone – the Marlboro man. His physique dominated by a chest puffed large with pride. He is driven by self-interest, and in the Atlas Shrugged world of Western capitalism, he is the Hero.
We are fascinated by these characters who write their name large – the Donald Trumps of the world whose "reality" show we watch breathlessly. We live our lives vicariously through these arrogant stars – hoping that one day we too can achieve the station where we lead with these incredible words, "You’re fired!" To be a "real leader" in this present age you must demonstrate your incredible power, caring little for the lives you will negatively impact.
This Too Will Pass
But this present age is passing. As I’ve written ad nauseum, the values of the Emergent (civic) generation are replacing those of the boomers. Community is becoming more valued than individualism. A consensus model is replacing command and control.
Humility will be the defining feature of the Emergent leader. Williams offers a wonderful quote from the 17th Century pen of William Temple:
"Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all."
Jesus set the example of the leader who thinks not of himself – the true servant leader. In response to two of his disciples whose mother was lobbying for their position in his "Kingdom", Jesus states "whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Read Matthew 20:20-28)
But even some of us who "worship at the altar" of Servant Leadership guru, Robert Greenleaf, may be mistaken in our understanding of the phrase ‘servant leadership’. David Fitch, in his book The Great Giveaway says:
"Although Greenleaf has numerous insights into the dynamics of leadership that ensure good leadership, he cannot seem to avoid the modernist temptation to make those servant dynamics into a technique to be employed to achieve a desired outcome. He therefore can characterize servant leaders in the following terms: "A mark of leaders, an attribute that puts them in a position to show the way for other, is that they are better than most at pointing the direction….It may be a goal derived from consensus, or the leader, acting on inspiration, may simple have said, ‘Let’s go this way." But the leader always knows what it is and can articulate it for any who are unsure." Yet what Greenleaf evidently fails to realize is that the nature of servant leadership changes when it is looked upon as a technique to achieve different goals." (page 87)
Humility is not an attribute to put on – so that we can more effectively lead. If that is all it is then our leadership is really manipulation. And manipulating leaders are hardly in short supply.
I look forward to the humility conversation continuing.
Your not so humble servant,
UPDATE: Ira Williams has his own blog.