“It is unhealthy to marinate in your own press clippings” (Sam Walton)

Humility is the hallmark of true leadership. Those in leadership who display humility recognise that they have been put in a position to serve others, create opportunity for others and bring out the best in others. Humility empowers others. It sets an example of the need to care for people. It focuses externally on hardship, poverty and pain and is not self-seeking. It creates the environment where everyone’s voices can be heard. It empathises with those who are struggling and seeks real solutions to comfort and lift those who are hurting. Leadership humility gives people hope.

Leadership selfishness (and related arrogance), on the other hand, destroys hope. It places wealth, power and opportunity beyond the hands of many. It excludes. It alienates. It divides. It builds walls between categories of citizens and minimises contribution value. It displays prejudice and bias. It sends a strong message: “I don’t care for you and your plight”. It devalues the dignity of the human being and diminishes self-worth. Leadership selfishness is destructive. It brings to light deficiency in the leader – Benjamin Whichcote noted: “None are so empty as those who are full of themselves”.

There are a couple of world leaders who demonstrate humility – Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand), Angela Merkel (Germany) and others. Interestingly, the two that stand out are both women, while not perfect people, but women – maybe men just don’t get the need for humility?

Maria Villar said this of Angela Merkel: “She is Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, the world’s most respected leader, a physics and chemistry scientist turned politician (she speaks German, English and Russian perfectly). She leads the strongest economy in the European Union and one of the most important in the world.

She, however, receives no free state service, no housing, no electricity, no gas, no entertainment expenses, no personal chef, no water, no free phone from the Federal Republic of Germany budget, and lives her life humbly like any other German citizen. She does her own shopping, carries her own shopping bags, pays for her purchases and if she receives a parking ticket, she pays out of her own pocket”.

Omer Alvie noted of Angela Merkel: “In 16 years of power, she did not appoint any of her relatives to a state position”. Marc Scranton said: “We, as Germans, expect our leader to live like us and not off us”. Both these comments suggest that humility is a prerequisite of true and deeply meaningful leadership.

Jacinda Ardern, likewise, has displayed humility consistently during her tenure as Prime Minister of New Zealand. Very pragmatic in her approach to life and human need, she was once asked by a journalist in Washington DC at a United Nations gathering why she brought her baby along with her. She answered: “I am breast-feeding, and I have to keep the little one alive”. She is regularly seen walking the streets of Wellington, popping into restaurants and chatting with her people. Jacinda, together with her fellow senior public servants, took salary cuts at the onset of the corona virus pandemic to demonstrate oneness with the pain that other citizens were feeling. She cares.

Humility is the key that unlocks the leader’s mind to learning from others. It exposes the leader to need and highlights potential reparative actions. Its example galvanises government or business focus on development and progress. It shuns selfishness and rather embraces collaboration, participation and contribution. Elizabeth Goudge importantly noted: “Truly great men and women are never terrifying. Their humility puts you at ease”.

Humility is the hallmark of true leadership. With respect to Angela Merkel, a journalist recently asked her, “Do you remember I took a photo of you in this same dress ten years ago?” She told him: “My mission is to serve my fellow Germans, not to be a model.”

Leave a Reply