Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Humility in Business

A couple of months ago, after listening to a sermon on the topic of humility, my friend Mike wondered what humility would look like in the workplace. So I thought I'd ask you for examples of humility in the workplace... but that's next week's post.

Before we venture into examples of humility in the workplace, I thought we'd explore the topic of humility in a slightly different angle. Mike's comment led me to do a little research (I was googling, but research sounds so much better) on the topic of humility in business. Here's what I discovered:

Humility can be good for business. Partly driven by the popular Good to Great book by Jim Collins, many are taking a fresh look at humility as an essential virtue of the effective business leader. In fact, in a 2004 interview, Stone Phillips of NBC News actually asks the question "Can humility be good for business?". Here's part of the opening quote -
"...there is a movement in America that insists arrogance, greed and selfishness don't have to be the hallmarks of business. It's a model of business management that's catching on with corporations today, called servant-leadership. Can humility and faith be good for business? Was Jesus the ultimate CEO?"

Make no mistake about it - this is hardly mainstream. However, there is growing awareness that "humility" can lead to success in business. Some are looking at the example of Jet Blue's CEO handling of a corporate crisis and lauding his humble response.

So, here are my questions -

  • Is this utilitarian emphasis on humility as a core virtue of the successful business leader something that Christians should embrace?
  • Should a Christian define humility differently? After all, humility is a trait that most religions tout as virtuous.
  • How would you define humility and what motivates you to pursue it?


Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I hesitate to give you what my youth group kids call the "sunday school" when in doubt answer "Jesus" answer. However, that's the best I can come up with for you.

It seems to me that really humble people don't think poorly of themselves but rather have a reaslistic view of themselved, who they are, what they are here to do and a willingness to submit to doing it God's way - and to me that is Jesus.

If you look at the tempations - nothing that satan was promising to give Jesus wasn't something that wasn't going to be His in the end - and He already knew it - the difference wasn't what He was or wasn't going to get - it was how He was willing to go about it - there was satan's way and there was God's way. And, it seems like to me, that God's way required humility, a willingness to allow someone else to lead because 1) it's the right thing to do because they are in authority over you 2) you trust them and desire to please them 3) you know that they are fully in control - so humility is knowing who you are, what you can do and then just letting go and doing it in God's strength rather than your own - His timing rather than your own - His ways rather than your own.

Hope this makes sense.

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks for your thoughts - sometimes those Sunday School answers really are the best, aren't they?

So, I'm guessing that you're not in favor of corporate America's newfound pursuit of humility to "get ahead" in the business world? ;-)

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

Actually, I think it might be because they won't be able to do it.

Most really are very arrogant and self-focused. I am surrounded by egos every day - somedays, including my own. In the business of making people well involves lots of people with lots and lots of degrees - one set arrogantly setting themselve up as demi-gods and the other resenting them but doing litle better in their attitudes.

I predict great frustration for those trying to be someone they are not. Hopefully, during their frustrated trying, they will come across a believer who truly is humble and servant-hearted and the contrast will be disturbing to them. Perhaps, even, humbling - and may be useful in helping them to see themselves as sinners who need a Savior.

So, I'm all for it! Besides, we can always hope it will reign in some of the turf wars and power struggles!

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

Ps - have linked you here and would appreciate some input from you as well if you have the time.

L.L. Barkat said...

Oh, most amusing... the utilitarian emphasis on humility. Kind of defeats the purpose in a way, huh?

Every Square Inch said...


That's what I find a little funny. By the way it's not just those who are non-Christians who do this.

I may not have done a good job getting my point across in the post, but isn't this also what Christians do when we tout humility as the virtuous way to better business?

I guess I'm asking - why pursue humility? Does the reason we do this have anything to do with God?
If not, aren't we being utilitarian in our own way?

Every Square Inch said...


I'm pleased to provide input...thanks for asking

Mike said...

(Note: I am the Mike that Andre is referring to in his opening comments)
I first came across the question in my head while attending an All-Managers Meeting at my company. I noticed that our CEO displayed much graciousness and humility in speaking highly of others and giving honor to those who worked hard to make our company a success. It vividly reminded me of the same type of rhetoric that I hear on church on Sundays (i.e. – when a guest speaker is introduced, honoring servants in the church, etc.) except without the obvious references to God. I began to notice more and more that there were other leaders in the company that also displayed various levels of humility in the way they sought input, appearing to lower themselves by admitting weaknesses, and overall graciousness when good work was done. Now, I cannot be sure that these leaders are all non-Christians, but it’s only a hunch. I was sort of impressed and amazed that I could find strikingly similar parallels in character b/t Christians and non-Christians in the marketplace. To be honest, sometimes I even thought that these non-Christian leaders sometimes acted more “godly” than me at times. Anyhow, I haven’t answered any of the questions that Andre has posed since I too have the same questions. But I hope to find a greater purpose in being humble at work other than using it to effectively motivate and lead a group of people. I also hope to find a brand of humility that is different than what I have observed from non-Christians because I believe that the transforming work of the gospel uniquely gives that person the ability to glorify God and to bring light into darkness. I’m glad that Andre posted this topic up on his blog and hope to converse more with you on this subject in the coming weeks.

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks for your thoughts. I wonder - is humility apart from God truly humble? I don't know the answer to that question but was just musing.

Real Live Preacher said...

Found you through your new High Calling relationship.

You know, it's funny to me how almost every virtue can be reduced to some utilitarian justification. It's so common, and many Christians do this all the time. "Here's how 'Christian principles of living' will make you a better business person."

Yeah, maybe. But I think I would define humility as the ability to let go of your obsession with yourself. Perhaps humility in business would be doing the right thing regardless of whether or not it benefited you. And that's not always "good business."

my two cents.

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks for visiting. I like your comment -

"...almost every virtue can be reduced to some utilitarian justification."

I guess that's what I thought when I first encountered the emphasis on humility in the business world. At first it sounds like something Christians should applaud (and some do) as it seems like it validates the pursuit of humility as worthwhile. But, is it really humility?

Real Live Preacher said...

Yeah, this seems to be a rampant problem in the modern world. Everything must be reduced to some immediate (and personal) payoff. You can't even bring it up in the business world unless it affects the bottom line...with a number.

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