By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

We all have mental images of leaders – and most of them are not worth the cost of contemplating them.

Forget all the notions out there are about natural leaders being tall, well-built, square-jawed, macho men. Yes, there are a lot of those kind around. But studies show that they’re no more likely to be effective leaders than the rest of us – including, obviously, women.

Seldom do we hear praises being sung for the value of humility in effective leadership – although I have to note that we are, in fact, hearing those praises ever more frequently as empirical research shows that long-term effective leadership is not about “command and control” dynamics.

Yes, “command and control” has its place. And that place is during a huge crisis, when time is the most important element and doing almost anything is better than deliberating for very long about what to do. For example, when someone yells “Fire!” get out of the building – now.

But autocratic leadership is high-risk leadership. It assumes that one person’s insight and oversight is superior to everyone else’s, even in the aggregate. Research shows that’s not true. No matter how bright, intuitive or analytical a person may be, their leadership is nearly always enhanced by the input of others.

And that’s where humility comes in.

Positional leadership is intimidating. When the boss says something, no matter how stupid, all the incentives for followers seem to rest on the side of agreement. Go along to get along. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t speak truth to power unless you are looking to make an exit appearance.

Leaders who want good feedback need to create an environment where it’s safe for subordinates to speak up, to offer their best estimations, to warn of hazards they see that may not be apparent to others, including boss.

Since the beginning, those of us in the Lead Like Jesus Movement have said that “leadership begins on the inside” – and there on the inside it matters what is in your heart.

Ken Blanchard, co-author of the best-selling business book The One Minute Manager and dozens of other books devoted to improved leadership performance, says that “humility is not about thinking less of yourself, it’s about thinking of yourself less.”

Research shows that leaders who put the needs of their organizations and their people over their own personal needs consistently achieve better results for their organizations, their charges – and ultimately themselves. But that requires humility.

John Keyser, founder and principal of Common Sense Leadership, a Chicago-based coaching firm that helps corporate executives further develop skills they need to become great leaders, provides us with a great case study that shows how humility at the top can lead to a first-rate, high-performing team.

Keyser described the organization as a place where “nearly everyone embodies humility, is selfless, (has) no personal agendas, and allows themselves to be vulnerable, recognizing and sharing with one another their areas of potential improvement.”

Keyser doesn’t have anything to say about leading like Jesus, but we know that the commitment to submit to the leadership lessons and examples of Jesus is a great first step in leading with a humble heart.