Monday, December 08, 2008

Leading with the Head bowed down

Lessons in Leadership Humility from the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia.

Leadership often draws the wrong kinds of leaders. Positions of power and influence have the tendency to attract the proud and the upwardly mobile individualists[1]. Contemporary leadership authors have gone as far as describing organizational leaders as idols, heroes, saviors, warriors, magicians, and even as omnipotent demi-gods[2]. But recently more voices within organizational discourse have been raised to question our perception and acceptance of these power-vested models of leadership. Could leaders be humble, many wonder[3]? It seems that the tide started to turn as the century did, in favor of a virtuous approach to leadership, culminating in the publication of Jim Collins’ pioneering article on Level 5 Leadership in the January 2001 edition of the Harvard Business Review[4]. Collins proposed that the “most powerfully transformative executives” surveyed in his study all possessed the virtue of personal humility.
Although Collin’s work[5] does not describe the process of formation of humble leaders, it does provide an erudite four-fold description of organizational leadership humility:

  • Personally humble leaders demonstrate a compelling modesty. They shun public adulation and never boast.
  • Personally humble leaders act with calm and quiet determination, not relying on inspiring charisma to motivate but rather inspired standards.
  • Personally humble leaders avoid personal ambition in favor of multi-generational organizational growth and development.
  • Personally humble leaders are self-reflective and tend to appropriate blame towards themselves are not others.

How then is humility formed in leaders? It might not come as a surprise that Jim Collins is not the first person to describe the possibility and power of leadership humility. A sixth-century Christian monk, St. Benedict of Nursia (480-540 A.D.), the father of Western Cenobitic Monasticism[6], wrote a rule in which he provided his followers with a twelve step process description of how humility is formed in followers and leaders alike. Benedict’s rule on humility has worked well as a guide and “spiritual manual[7]” facilitating personal and communal transformation within the Benedictine Order and others for well over 1500 years[8].

For the rest of the article see this link.

[1] Taylor, Barbara Brown. 2005. The Evils of Pride and Self-Righteousness. The Living Pulpit, October-December 2005:5.
[2] Morris, J. Andrew, Brotheridge, Céleste M., and Urbanski, John C. 2005. Bringing humility to leadership: Antecedents and consequences of leader humility. Human Relations, 58/10: 1323-1350.
[3] See Dickson, John P. and Rosner, Brian S. 2004. Humility as a Social Virtue in the Hebrew Bible? Vetus Testamentum LIV,4:459-479; and Elsberg, Robert. 2003. The Saints’ Guide to Happiness. New York: North Point Press.
[4] Collins, Jim. 2001. Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve. Harvard Business Review, January: 66-76.
[5]Collins, Jim. 2001. Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve. Harvard Business Review, January: 66-76.
[6] Cheline, Paschal G. 2003. Christian Leadership: A Benedictine Perspective. American Theological Library Association Summary of Proceedings 57:107-113.
[7] Waaijman, Kees. 2002. Spirituality: Forms, Foundations, Methods. Leuven: Peeters.
[8] Mitchell, Nathan D. 2008. Liturgy and Life: Lessons in Benedict. Worship 82/2:161-174.