How to Maintain Humility as a Leader

How to be a Great Leader

Arrogance is one of the greatest liabilities that leaders have.

When the leader is arrogant, they start to lose the respect and the buy-in of their team.

That’s why this is a great problem.

But the other problem with arrogance is that it eats away at the leader themselves.

As you become arrogant, you believe that you are more important than the mission.

You believe that people should bend to your will.

You believe that that the thing that matters is that you have the ultimate say, and it’s just not the healthy mindset for the team nor the leader as well.

It’s not what will lead to your happiness, joy, and satisfaction as a leader.

How do we overcome arrogance?

When you’re the leader, you will get a little bit of celebrity status or influence, and that can go to your head.

I personally have had experience with moderate levels of celebrity.

I was in a direct sales company when I was in college, and I was the record holder.

And if you’ve ever been in direct sales, you know it’s a whole self-contained world where the top performers are really like celebrities.

When I was the World Champion of Public Speaking First Runner Up for Toastmasters, I was a little bit of a celebrity inside of that world.

And, being an author and a keynote speaker, I’ve had my share of the feeling of celebrity, influence, and fame.

It’s a drug. It is something that you can become addicted to.

Any leader is susceptible to it.

There’s a part of it that feels good to be recognized for what you do and recognized for your hard work and for who you are, but it’s a deceptive drug because it eventually erodes the relationships that you have with the people around you. It eventually eats away at your ability to create an impact in the world, to create results, to provide value to other people, and to develop the true influence that you want to have.

Arrogance is something that you must be aware of, and you must be mindful of.

Humility as a Leader

rory vaden quote

My favorite lesson about this came from a real-life story. 

I am on the board of our church, and a couple of years ago, we went through a leadership transition where we were looking for a new senior pastor.

I was fortunate to get to be included in some of the conversations and interviews in this selection committee. 

Church leadership is unique because while it is servant minded, you still need a leader to guide the organization. 

We interviewed several candidates and there was this one candidate, Kevin, who ended up being the candidate that we selected.

There was one thing that he said in the interview that sold me on him.

It was all about how he thought about arrogance, fame, notoriety, or influence.

This story is relevant to all leaders whether you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Savior of the world or not, that’s not what we’re talking about here.

As a leader, Jesus has more followers empirically speaking than anybody.

He has billions of followers on the planet, much more than even the biggest celebrities in the world.

There is a historical record of Palm Sunday, where Jesus is riding into this town and people are worshiping him with palm leaves, proclaiming here comes the Savior or the Messiah.

When Pastor Kevin was relaying this story, he said this:  

“As a pastor, I realized sometimes in my life it appears that I’m getting praised because I’m getting recognized for my role as a leader. What I realized, though, is I’m not the one who’s the leader. I’m not the savior. I’m not the Messiah. I’m the donkey. I’m the donkey carrying the Messiah.”

What Kevin was saying is so important to all leaders from all religious backgrounds and faiths, in all industries, and to all levels of celebrity, influence, fame, or notoriety recognition. It’s an important lesson.


What Kevin was saying is how silly it would be. Think about it. Jesus is riding on this donkey and to the donkey, it appears in that moment, people are worshiping him. 

All these people, a big celebration, and to the donkey, it felt good.  “Look at people who are parting the path there. They’re making a way for me.”

And how silly would it be for that donkey to believe that all the praise and the reward was going to him, when really, it was, in this historical reference, going to Jesus.

Here’s why this matters to you and me as a leader.

The way that you stay humble is you must remember that you’re the donkey.

I’m the donkey right now.

We may not be carrying Jesus in this sense, but as the leader, people aren’t worshiping you.

They’re not recognizing you.

Your job as the leader is that you’re carrying the mission. You’re carrying the values. You’re carrying the team. You’re carrying the responsibility of moving the vision forward.

As leaders, we’re the donkey.

If any leader wins, it’s because the team wins. It’s because of the work of the team and the work of the people.

If any mission wins, or if any great problem in the world is solved, it will never be solved by one person.

Even if that one person was the catalyst, if even if they were the leader, even if they were the founder, you can’t solve big problems in the world with one person.

Every big problem, every giant organizational vision, every huge accomplishment is the result of a team.

It just is.

And how silly for us, as leaders, to think that we’re the ones deserving of the praise.

It’s not wrong for us to internalize some of that, just like to the donkey it appeared that way.

But if you want to maintain a healthy level of humility, if you want to maintain the respect of your team, if you want to maintain a proper level of mental health, as it relates to your role in the organization and to what you do, then you must remember that I and you are just the donkeys.

Carry the mission, carry the vision, carry the focus of the team, carry the team, carry the objectives forward.

Be proud to be associated with it but realize it’s not about you.

You play a role. I play a role. But as the leader, in most cases, we’re just the donkey.

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