In his book Created for Greatness, Alexandre Havard plunges into two very specific virtues that he believes are essential to leadership: magnanimity and humility. He defines magnanimity as striving toward great things and humility as the ambition to serve.
Christians have understood this perspective on leadership through the words spoken by Jesus, “Whoever wishes to be great must be the servant of all.” This principle was echoed by well-known author Jim Collins in his research for Good to Great and How the Mighty Fall. Collins and his research team looked at categories of leaders and grouped them into five levels. He found many “good” leaders and subsequently labeled them level 4 leaders. But he said what separated a level 4 leader from a level 5 leader, a good leader from a great leader, was humility. A great leader is a person in whom genuine personal humility blends with intense professional will. This conclusion is not simply a theory; it is backed up by significant empirical evidence and statistics.
Leadership is fundamentally about others. And authentic leadership is truly geared to bringing greatness out in others. While the virtue of magnanimity testifies to one’s own value, dignity and worth, the virtue of humility acknowledges the value, dignity and worth of others. And in fact, humble leadership seeks not only to acknowledge others but to elevate them to new heights. It facilitates them remaining grounded in their dignity, while achieving heights which may have been beyond reach without the leader’s boost.
Consider this analogy. Once I was at a parade with my young daughter. It was crowded and her view was blocked by the hundreds of legs in front of her. So I lifted her up onto my shoulders and gave her a vantage point from where she could see everything. Seeing further than everyone else, she was empowered, filled with enthusiasm and felt on top of the world! I was able to give her a boost to a new height that surpassed even my own. In no way did it diminish my stature. But it certainly elevated hers.
This also demonstrates how fatherhood is deeply connected with leadership. Great fathers selflessly allow rewards, opportunities, and goodness to bypass them such that their children may be blessed. They work and sacrifice so that their children and their children’s children might find a better life, and greater freedom and happiness than they’ve had. Great fathers, and great leaders, manifest great humility.
The virtue of humility is an invitation for leaders to lift people above themselves. Leaders become great by bringing out greatness in others, enabling them to achieve heights which the leaders themselves may often never experience. John Wooden, the most successful NCAA basketball coach of all time, winning ten national championships in twelve years, was noted to say, “Personal greatness for any leader is measured by effectiveness in bringing out the greatness in those you lead.”
Who are you intentionally lifting above yourself?