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What Do Strong Leaders Need Most?

Imagine you're on a nationally televised game show and the host gives you ten seconds to name five characteristics of strong leaders. Ready? Go! 10 - 9 - 8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 Time's up! What's on your list? Commanding presence? Check! Intelligence? Check! Supreme confidence? Check! Humility? What? Ok, game over.

What do you think? If we were to poll a sizeable group of people where do you think humility would rank today? I tend to be rather optimistic but my pessimistic side says it wouldn't be in the top 5.

David Brooks writes about the virtue of humility in his book, The Road to Character. He says: "We live in the culture of the Big Me. The meritocracy wants you to promote yourself. Social media wants you to broadcast a highlight reel of your life. Your parents and teachers were always telling you how wonderful you were."

True enough but as I think of people I admire, and the qualities of character they possess, humility is something they all share.

Humility is not the same as low self-esteem or lacking in confidence. A person can be both confident and humble. In fact, the combination of confidence and humility are probably seen in some of the greatest leaders of history, as well as some of the people you and I probably admire the most.

Back to David Brooks. He went on to say, "But all the people I've ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. ... They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness."

Another quotable person who had plenty of reason for confidence, C.S. Lewis said, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."

Dan Rockwell writes a daily blog on leadership and tells about asking his friend G.J. Hart, when he was CEO of Texas Roadhouse, if he could spot emerging leaders. He didn't rule out talent, education, or leadership presence, but he replied, "I can usually tell if they have the humility to make it." In the same article he notes some of the differences between humble leaders and those who lead with arrogance.

(1) Arrogance knows, but humility learns. (2) Arrogant leaders bend rules to their advantage while humble leaders submit to noble values. (3)Arrogant leaders talk, humble leaders listen. (4)Arrogant leaders serve themselves while humble leaders serve others. (5)Arrogant leaders build up themselves, but humble leaders are free to build up others.*

I can't conclude this short article without mentioning someone who I think lived an exemplary life characterized by humility and confidence but with no hint of arrogance. Rev. Billy Graham finished his race on this earth yesterday, February 21. My hope and prayer is that he will not only be remembered but that his example will be followed by leaders everywhere.

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