Humility – antidote to “leadership kryptonite”
Superman has long been famous for his nearindestructible nature — superstrength, super-speed, X-ray vision, and a long list of other impressive attributes. As for weaknesses, well, there’s only one. Kryptonite.
Although business leaders may not match Superman’s fictitious ability to leap over buildings in a single bound or stop a runaway locomotive, they have their own long lists of real-time attributes. They’re successful, smart, determined visionaries. They can rally others around common goals. They persevere when most give up.
But they can also have a weakness commensurate to kryptonite. Pride.
Think of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. Eve falls for the serpent’s ploy, and makes a prideful, egotistical choice, which she convinces Adam to follow. Voila, original sin for the ages.
Think of some of the highestprofile business failures of recent years. Enron comes to mind — an enormous company brought down by an extraordinary confluence of circumstances revolving around a series of regrettable, egotistical decisions. I read an interesting analysis recently by George Weigel, who makes the case that the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign was its own undoing, because loyalty was its highest value. Criticism (even of the healthy, constructive type) of the candidate was not tolerated. Could this have been due to pride? What would have been the antidote? Humility.
Jesus Christ Himself was the ultimate example of humility: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” (Matthew 11:29) We may equate meekness and humility with weakness, but it’s not so. Rather, the humility of Christ sprung from His complete submission to God the Father. This ought to be our goal as well.
Think for a moment of Lucifer. The father of lies began as a fallen angel who refused to serve. Lucifer’s “non-serviam” has resounded throughout history. His lies cause us to draw inward, to prioritize ourselves, to neglect or refuse service to God and others.
So how does this play out in our lives today?
As Legates, we are Catholic business leaders, not simply business leaders who are Catholic. Being Catholic should make a difference in how we lead.
In my first book, Faith at Work: Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck, I recount one of my early career failures that helped me discover humility. I was working with a CPA firm, and audited the books of a company with a controller who was a “pompous, arrogant, foul-mouthed, rude, sexist, sanctimonious jerk.” No, he didn’t like me either.
At the culmination of my job, my boss gave me the flesh-shredding evaluation of a lifetime.
While in my mind, the entire episode had somehow become all about me, his evaluation helped me regain perspective by ingesting a large helping of fraternal correction, businessstyle. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Although it has taken years, my awareness of humility in the workplace has sharpened.
Humility helps us to keep priorities straight, focus on serving God and others, and avoid selfabsorption. We’re all smart in different ways, and humility helps us to appreciate the gifts of others – and acknowledge them with sincerity.
Humble people make better teammates – when we’re humble we play off each other’s strengths rather than exploit others’ weaknesses. Humble leadership perpetuates a humble culture, and helps any organization be more effective. Humble leaders are open to correction – and therefore less susceptible to self-inflicted scandal and poor decision-making.
Humility not only helps us to imitate Christ in our vocation as business leaders, it helps us sanctify our work and fulfill our shared Legatus mission.
Pride is leadership kryptonite, but our Lord has shown us the most effective antidote: humility.
KEVIN LOWRY is an executive at RevLocal, a rapidly growing digital marketing company, and member of the Columbus Legatus chapter. His latest book is How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming Into the Catholic Church (Our Sunday Visitor). His website is gratefulconvert.com