December 10, 2014 | Barb Carr

A Core Value for Leadership

We’ve written about determining and living your core values so we thought you may be interested in this article along the same theme.

This article was submitted by “Captain George” J. Burk, a Vietnam veteran, plane crash & burn survivor and motivational speaker. Visit his website at or let him know what you think at:

Humility: Advantage for leaders originates from this unforeseen core value

Humility: “the absence of any feelings of being better than others; freedom from pride and arrogance; lack of false pride.”

It seems we live in a time where authoritarian power is questioned from the classroom to the boardroom and many places in-between, research seems conclusive—humility is a dramatically and more effective way to lead.

A study from the University of Washington Foster School of Business shows that humble people tend to make the most effective leaders(yep, that right, the most) and are more likely to be high performers in both individual and team settings. This is not a revelation to me because of some of the leaders I’ve worked for and was privileged to know. This reinforces my belief that there’s no room in the classroom or boardroom, onboard ship or wherever leadership is present, for the self-absorbed, over-indulgent, narcissist, know-it-all, loud mouth blowhard. Yes, I’ve known a few of them! The study found that employees who rated their leaders as humble said they felt more engaged and were less likely to quit. They also indicated they were more committed to a leader’s vision and trust them more and more receptive to the leaders’ ideas.

“If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him how much you know.” Dr. Kenneth Boa

The report called this “quieter leadership”—listening, being transparent, aware of their limitations and appreciating their staff strengths and contributions, is an effective way to engage and motivate employees. It’s hardly a secret that leaders are hired based in their specific skills and experience, but often fired based on their personality. A leader’s arrogance, narcissism and a belief that by any means necessary and however unscrupulous it may be, is justification to achieve power or success. Our country is replete with business owners, political and military leaders who were lionized by various publications and media as if their apparent over confidence was a good benchmark of paranormal abilities, super intelligence, infallible strategic vision and wonderful speech patterns and oratory skills. Yet, to a person, those leaders were credited as the cause their organizations and careers collapsed. Many tears ago, I learned that if leaders and others, regardless of their position or a status, find the need to continuously tell people they are transparent, aware of their limitations and so on, really aren’t that way at all. They merely parrot those values as a way to convince others and create an artificial perception of who they want others to believe they are. It’s a false narrative.

There are examples that suggests that there’s an inherent power in humility—for various reasons people associate humility with weakness and an inability or unwillingness to stand up for ourselves. However, the same research mentioned above, other studies…and my own observations…shows humility has “zilch” to do with weakness because it requires substantial inner strength i.e. “guts”…an a strong belief in self that not only welcomes feedback and constructive criticism but knows it’s one of the fundamental ways to grow. The ability and will to self-reflect and see our limitations along with our strengths, is essential to reap the benefits of humility.

“He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble His way.” Psalm 25:9

How to spot humility.

Like it or not, those around us can see our humility, or lack of it, far better than we can see it. Here are a few scenarios to consider when we evaluate our humility or the humility of others.

When they are celebrated. Are they (and us), boastful and take all the credit or conscious of the people and events that created the success? Deflect praise? Accept responsibility when the excrement hits the rotor blades?

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” Thomas Merton

When they are criticized. Are they (and us) self-confident enough to accept feedback and learn from it while they (and us) honor themselves, or do they resist, defend their positions and rationale and react, often negatively?

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace but with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 11:12

When they are in competition. Respect their opponents, and see the opportunity to interact with them as a valuable teachable moment from which to grow or…are they (still) ruthless, disrespectful, loud and boorish?

When in a momentary or sustained position of increased strength or weakness? Are they respectful to those lower in the hierarchy and to those above them without the belief or attitude that either action somehow takes something from them?

In the above scenarios (and perhaps others) leader(s) will be prompted or even provoked to reveal their true level of humility when asked specific questions in various ways. One observation: how comfortable is the leader and how comfortable are you (us) with power in yourself and with others?

Leaders and people in general grow and mature in relationships with both sides of the humility coin—having it and not having it and are best illustrated in how and when they conduct themselves in response to it. A person’s true humility is best seen by a relaxed emotional attitude in relation to power, while arrogance and self-absorption betray a deep-seated immaturity, lack of self-confidence and self-awareness and awkwardness in the face of it. Humility allows us to objectively self-reflect and clearly see our limitations and our strengths and is vital to reap the benefits of humility. Humility is not a sign of weakness, oh contraire, but is an indicator of emotional strength because it demands an inner strength to accept feedback and criticisms. Humility is one of the most important core values we need so we can continue to grow as leaders and human beings.

John Ruskin said, “I believe that the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I don’t mean by humility to doubt of his power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibility merciful.”

I’ve known and know those I consider great leaders. They come in all genders, shapes, sizes, colors and ranks. I observe(d) how they respond(ed) to stress, professional and personal challenges, disappointments and loss and their successes, of which there were many. My conclusions: they live (lived) a strong and humble center of gravity and are (were) seen as more honest, trustworthy and quite capable. They also had a deep sense of their own spirituality. I learned from their thoughts, words and deeds they believed they were not alone in their walk through this life—they always sought to do the right thing(s). How do I know this? On a many occasions, especially after I was burned and injured in the plane crash in 1970, I and my family were the recipients of their humble, gracious, ethical and moral leadership, care and unseen humility. Without it, I believe my life and that of my wife and three young children would have taken a different and darker path. They gave us hope when I had none and all seemed lost!

Humility is a great anti-self focus and it allows leaders (and us) to develop a deeper perspective in their (and our)relationships with others. They’re not surprised or often fooled by the surface and can see behind the veil individuals create. They do not suffer fools wisely.

So, the takeaway from this: humility is inherent, and I believe, a learned treasure and core value that everyone can receive if and only if, they choose to take the journey into the true heart of who they really are.

I’ve often heard a phrase that captures humility: “A pseudo leader always leaves you with a feeling of their greatness, while an authentic and humble leader and person always leaves you with a feeling of your greatness.” My mother, Willa Catherine Burk epitomized that kind of leader and mother. She constantly filled me with positive affirmations; she always made me feel my greatness. I miss her…a lot!

Ever since my plane crash and all that occurred since that day, I’ve often ask myself, “Who are you really?” Where are you going? How will you get there? Who will be on your team?” Perhaps you’ve asked yourself similar questions, too.

“Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” Lyrics from a Willie Nelson song.
His words, not mine!

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