Leading Meetings with Humility

by Adam McClendon January 26, 2017

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins explains that one of the essential characteristics of a great leader (level 5) is humility. Jim discovered through his extensive research what the Bible has been declaring for hundreds of years. Here are a few examples:

One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. Proverbs 29:23

Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. Proverbs 18:12

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. James 3:13

As leaders, we often believe our employees, our colleagues, and our bosses expect us to be perfect. We feel the pressure of living up to that expectation, yet it is an illusion. The illusion is that we often place expectations on ourselves, expectations no one else really has of us. Such feelings and self-projections are often a result of our pride. We like being superman or superwoman. We like to think that we are the exception to the rule. Thus, our pride causes us to look at each task and opportunity from the vantage point of how it makes us look in front of others or how it advances us. This approach is dangerous for you and your company or church, and leading out of such hubris is contrary to the example Jesus gave us.

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2:3–11

As we acknowledge the need to lead humbly, what does godly, humble leadership look like in the day-to-day flow of our workweek? While many examples can be given, I'd like to focus specifically on leading meetings.

So, here are 3 truths we need to embrace to help us lead meetings out of more humble hearts. I truly believe that if we will really embrace these truths, we will find our meetings less tense and more productive, and we will find our teammates more receptive than we would have imagined.

I’m limited.

We are all limited in so many ways. We all need to sleep and eat. We all have areas of expertise and areas of ignorance. We all have certain abilities and certain weaknesses. We all have time limitations. The list could go on and on. The truth is that you and I are limited. We need to embrace this reality when leading our teams, businesses, and congregations.

As a result of this truth, we will realize that we all need help. We need other people around us.

I’m fallible.

What do I mean when I say that each one of us is fallible? I mean that we are not perfect. We make mistakes. If we’re honest, we make a lot of mistakes. Even when we don’t make mistakes, we should acknowledge the possibility of them when planning and making decisions. This acknowledgement will bring a greater level of humility and openness to the conversation.

Earlier, I mentioned that we feel this pressure from our culture to be perfect as leaders. If it is true that we will make mistakes and that our pride and other pressures will keep us from admitting it, we'll likely might respond poorly when they happen. If we buy into this idea that we have to be the perfect leader, we will be tempted to respond to mistakeby shifting blame, expecting perfection from those around us, covering up our mistakes, etc.

We must resist the cultural pressure, even if it is self-imposed, to function out of such pride and admit our own fallibility. Now, this doesn’t mean that mistakes don’t have consequences and that some mistakes shouldn’t happen. Rather, the point is that when we function from the perspective that we are fallible it takes the edge off. We are less defensive and more humble.

I’m ignorant.

We all have blind spots. Some of these blind spots we are aware of and some we are not. Not only are we at times ignorant of our shortcomings, weaknesses, projected behavior, etc., but because of our limited knowledge, we are truly ignorant of a vast many issues and subjects.

Here is a good rule of thumb. You and I are rarely the smartest person in the room when we are leading a meeting. That’s right, we are rarely the smartest person at the table even though it is our job to lead. (As a brief aside, if you are the smartest person at the table, you need to bring better people on your team. You are hurting yourself and your organization by keeping people around you over whom you can feel superior.)

So, taking these things into account, does your leadership style reflect these truths? Acknowledging these three truths - I’m limited, fallible, ignorant - will help us grow in these areas and instill confidence among our teammates.