Leadership Summit 2011 | John Dickson – Humilitas

Posted on August 12, 2011


“Mistakes of execution are rarely as damaging to any organization as a refusal to concede mistakes. Apologize to those affected and redress the issue with generosity and haste.”

— live notes —

Leading up to the Summit, I’m struck with the reality that I’m going to be the guy that is going to talk on humility. Does this guy really think that he is the expert on humility, in which case, he isn’t, and why is he talking to us anyway?

Let’s begin with a definition: Humility is not humiliation, though they come from the same Latin root. It’s not low self-esteem. It’s the noble choice to forego your status and use your influence for the good of others before yourself. Humility is to hold your power in service of others.

My thesis is that the greatest leaders in history are marked by this humility.

Now, I’m not saying that your humility makes you great, or that you can never be great unless you have this. But what I will try to convince you of is that humility makes your great, greater.

Humility is a reflection of the deep structure of reality.

1. Humility is common sense. None of us is an expert at everything. What we collectively don’t know and can’t do, far exceeds what we do know and what we can do. Expertise in one area counts for very little in another. Just because you know an awful lot in one field does not have the ability to adjudicate in another field. And the reality is, a true expert should know this.

What’s the ugly alternative. Is competency extrapolation.

This happens in the church. Pastors, because we are “experts” in the Bible, think we can speak to the other areas; science, politics, etc. If we don’t listen to these real experts, we miss out. We have to learn to listen to the experts in our pews.

2. Humility is beautiful.

We are more attractive to the great who are humble, than the great that know they’re great.

Humility has not always been regarded as beautiful. In ancient Greece and Rome, humility actually meant defeat. It was regarded as ill-informed and morally suspect.

A humility revolution took place in the middle of the first-century with a teacher from Nazareth. Mark 10:3. But it wasn’t Jesus’ teaching, but his action of crucifixion. Let me explain. Crucifixion was the ultimate humiliation. What does it mean for humility to fit in a cross? If the greatest man we have ever known, willingly sacrificed his life for others, then greatest must exist in sacrificing self for others.

Here is the first text in written history to connect greatness with humility. Philippians 2:3-8.

Professor Edwin Judge. The idea that we are attracted to humble people comes entirely from the Christian tradition.

Not am I, for a second, suggesting that you have to be Christian to be humble, but our culture has been massively influenced by the crucifixion. Our culture is now “cruciform,” shaped by the cross.

3. Humility is generative. It generates new knowledge. A proud person will go away from a conference like this with less than a humble person. Think about the scientific method, where peer-review is built into the system.

Peter Harrison, The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science. Humility actually created science.

The humble place is the generative place, the place of flourishing. Accurate criticism is your best friend [VIA: perhaps these people are the WISE from Henry Cloud’s talk]

4. Humility is persuasive. The text book on persuasion for 2000 years was written by Aristotle on Rhetoric: there must be logos (reasoning), pathos (aesthetic and emotional), and ethos (character of the persuader). Aristotle believed that character is the most important. “Character is almost, so to speak, the controlling factor in persuasion.” – Aristotle.

Reference to Richard Baukham. It was his humility that made him trustworthy.

The most believable / persuasive person in the world is the person you know has your best interests in their heart.

5. Humility is inspiring. What Jim Collins says about Level 5 Leadership — strong will, deep humility — is also true of the military.

When leaders appear aloof and unapproachable, we admire them, but we don’t emulate them. But when our great leaders are approachable, have time for you, are other person centered, are humble, we don’t just admire them, but we aspire to be just like them.

Four tools of leadership:

  1. Ability
  2. Authority
  3. Character
  4. Persuasion

Here’s the interesting thing. Some of the most inspiring leaders in history had no structural authority. They just had truckloads of ability, character, and persuasion. Sometimes you don’t need the power to hire and fire, you don’t need the mandate… This is great news for junior leaders.

You don’t need a majority to impact your nation. You don’t need political authority to impact your country. You don’t need to “reclaim a Christian nation” to win back your country.

Because they seemed to be just like us, we felt that we could be just like them.

HUMILITY is a reflection of the deep structure of reality. At the root of everything is the cross, the self-giving life, therefore, a cruciform life, a life that is shaped by the cross is a life that is in touch with reality.