Can You Be Humble and Still Be a Leader?

by Andy Wood on July 13, 2011

in Leadership, Life Currency


Not if the focus is more on the office of the leader than on the needs of the led.  Leaders tend to have places in authority that give them the power to move people around, get people to do (or not do) things, hire and fire people, and in other ways mess with people’s lives.  Often those people (and the leaders) reverence the office more than the mission.  In Church World, I’ve been in places where “pastor” was synonymous with “Your Majesty.”  Where whims of the leader today become orders in stone tomorrow.  Where elders become rubber stamp specialists and people in general act like they just drank the Kool Aid – at least when the Anointed One is around.   And I don’t care who you are – that’s not healthy.

Not if there is a distinction between the interests of the leader and the good of the group.  Everybody has interests and most everybody has a plan to satisfy those interests.  The word for that is “agenda.”  But when the leader or the led began to separate their interests so that success and failure are no longer shared, this breeds pride.  Examples abound:  the darling turnaround executive who is too busy to lead his company because he’s on a book tour telling about the turnaround.  The pastor who separates his media ministry from his church ministry.  The politician who holds one office and runs for another one.  These kinds of things breed an attitude that the agenda of the leader is more important than the good of the group.

Not if people would rather have a king to make them feel safe.  In turbulent times people say they want a leader.  In truth, they want a king. They want somebody to tell them what to do, to fight their battles for them, to promise them safety and security.  But that comes at a price.  Kings have undisputed authority, and will tolerate nothing less.  How dare you question their ideas!  Don’t you realize how hopeless and helpless you are without them?   How irreplaceable they are?

Not if “getting something done” is always more important than bringing everybody along.  I recently heard of a pastor who had such an important vision from God… his whole staff was looking to leave… and he didn’t care. Conflict happens in any group.  It takes time to build consensus.  And honestly, sometimes in a crisis, you don’t have that kind of time.  But when a team or organization becomes a floodgate of people leaving, you’d better start paying attention to who’s walking out the back door.  If your organization is losing quality people, that may be evidence of a leader who is too proud to be patient.

Not if there is a standing barrier between the leader and the led.  I recently heard of a manager who openly, routinely refers to people outside of management as “lessers.”  I have known church environments where people never felt like they could even get to their pastor for a conversation, much less share an idea or speak into his life.  Years ago I was in a desperate situation and badly needed to talk to the pastor of the church I was attending.  He told me on Sunday to call his office, he’d love to see me.  I called on Monday.  On Friday an associate returned the call and told me he could see me in two and a half weeks.  But hey, at least somebody returned the call. I’ve seen plenty of other situations where the King or Anointed One was too important to even do that.

Can you be humble and still be a leader?


When the leader stays gratefully aware of all she has that she doesn’t deserve.

When the leader maintains a steady discipline of renewal and growth.

When the leader disciplines himself not to think more highly of himself than he ought to (regardless of the praises he receives from others) but stays anchored to sound judgment.

When the leader diligently does her part, and values the contributions of the other gifted members of the team or organization.

When the leader shows love and care without faking it.

When the leader gives preference and honor to others in the group.

When the leader speaks well of his critics.

When the leader is so connected with her constituents that she rejoices with them in their joy and weeps with them in their sorrow.

When the leader pursues shared interests and shared time with even the lowliest members of his organization or team.

When the leader is as ambitious about the dreams and ideas of others as she is about her own.

When the leader relentlessly pursues peace with all, as much as it depends on him.

When the leader chooses forgiveness over revenge.

(Yeah, that’s all in the Bible.)

Should you even care if the leader is humble?

I guess that all depends…

Do you want God resisting you or blessing you?

Can you survive when the leader crashes spectacularly? (Careful how you answer that.)

Can you live in the destruction left in the wake of an arrogant leader?

Can you trust God, even without the temporary safety that a king-leader gives you?

How long can you survive in an environment where people are disposable, questions are considered rebellious threats, and image is more important than truth?

Oh, and… Are you the leader?


God still resists the proud.  He still gives grace to the humble.  And no position, salary, or vanity insanity will ever change that.

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