2 Ways Leaders Can Exemplify Humility to Those under Their Authority

Good or Bad Influence

It’s really humbling to consider that when we’re in a leadership role, the influence we have upon others is profound—either for good or bad. When we have humility in the way that we wield our authority as a leader, that has a profound blessing upon others. The effect of that is flourishing and freedom and joy for those under our authority.

But when we lack humility, we can become coercive. We can create an environment that becomes abusive. I think a lot of people who abuse their authority don’t start out seeking to harm anyone, but pride and small steps of pride that build up over the years can have such a painful impact upon others—usually beyond what we’re even aware of as a leader.


Gavin Ortlund

In Humility, Gavin Ortlund explains that humility is not just an abstract virtue but a mark of gospel integrity, casting a vision for gospel-centered humility that is ultimately self-forgetfulness leading to joy.


So we want to think about it as leaders, and we have to be so careful to wield our authority with humility. There are a couple of things that I’ve found helpful about this. One is being willing to apologize. I see this with my kids. Sometimes I’ll pull our oldest three kids aside and just say, “Guys, I’ve been too grumpy today. I’ve not been patient. Will you forgive me?” And what is so wonderful about that is how immediately they respond and they’re so willing to forgive me. They’re immediate. They don’t ever hold it over my head. They always say, “Oh, okay, Dad. No problem.” And then they soften. And it affects the whole culture in our family.

I understand that this could be forced. We shouldn’t just apologize just for an effect, but if it’s truly from our heart when we’ve made a mistake and we’re willing to apologize, it creates a freedom in the whole culture that we’re trying to lead, because then other people say, Oh, I can apologize too. We don’t have to be perfect. We can own it when we’ve made a mistake or mistreated someone, or something like that. So, willingness to apologize is so key.

Rely on Others

Another thing I’ve thought a great deal about is trusting others and relying on others. In a leadership position, it is so easy to feel threatened by the gifts of others. Here’s a common scenario: you are the senior pastor at a church, but someone else in the church is better than you are at one of the tasks of pastoral ministry in the church.

What humility would call us towards is to trust others, rely on others, have an identity that is secure in the gospel.

Maybe it’s hospital visits, maybe it’s preaching by the associate pastor. You’re the senior pastor, and you’re watching the congregation respond so warmly to this other pastor’s gifts. Now, this is a great example of where any pastor without humility, who is not walking with the gospel, can become abusive because we can start to subtly—or not so subtly—feel threatened by this, and then react to that and try to displace this other person. And that’s a dark path. Once you start down that path, that is no fun for anyone, and you can really hurt people.

What humility would call us towards is to trust others, rely on others, have an identity that is secure in the gospel. We’re not easily jealous or envious of others. There are times where we may have a reason not to trust someone, so I want to acknowledge a little bit of complexity to this, but in general, the default posture of our hearts should be trusting of others, not to hoard power, not to feel threatened, but just to have an open heart. If someone hasn’t given us a reason not to trust them, open your heart to them. That person who’s better than us, just trust that they’re not going to turn on you, the people in the congregation are not going to respond and or revolt in some way, and step into the vulnerability as a leader of trusting others, allowing others to shine.

Make it your personal ambition to build up those around you, and let them flourish in their gifts. Get to a point where you would say, I want others to flourish far more than I do. I want others to outpace me, and to not be threatened by that.

When a leader is willing to embrace that, or even just—in the gospel—step towards that as much as they can, it creates an environment of flourishing, freedom, and joy for everyone under their authority.

Gavin Ortlund is the author of Humility: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness.

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