Humility is a core trait of leaders who, like Gandhi, see themselves as humble servants. These leaders do not lack confidence but value collaboration. They know their own strengths and weaknesses and empathize and connect with others to build talented teams and productive organizations.
The parable of humility concludes: “For everyone who makes himself great will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be made great.” The underlying belief is that leaders set more than an example by giving of themselves. They serve others’ needs so they can serve greater needs. This is the ultimate act of empowerment.
The leader as servant creates meaning and motivation in their own mind to sustain the level of service and sacrifice required. A focus on self-awareness answers ‘why I am going there’ or ‘why I am doing this’. Self-awareness comes from the power of reflection or introspection.
This competency defines leaders relative to themselves rather than to others. The inner space of leadership makes it sustainable. It eschews the norms of celebrity culture that can pull leadership into a black hole. Instead, sustainable leadership is a personal transformation that responds to a call and transcends self-interest.
The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote “… a leader is best when people are hardly aware of his existence.” Stories of servant leaders who championed change despite the odds and without resources or allies abound. Selfless icons like Norman Bethune in China and Mother Teresa in India would agree with Albert Schweitzer in Africa that, “People can no longer live for themselves alone. We must realize that all life is valuable and that we are united to all life.”
If the question ‘Why am I making this journey?’ cannot be answered with reference to a cause higher than self, then sufficient personal energy to sustain the journey is unlikely. The best people to answer the question are those working on the issues daily who may think they lack the ability to define the answers. Leadership involves a spiritual awakening.
Socrates observed that knowing yourself taps untouched leadership potential. People yearn for and thrive on appreciation, fairness, and meaning. Managers who rely upon authority, plans, and resources risk betraying followers and themselves. Humanity almost always trumps technocracy.
Public leaders must foster a high degree of collaboration with those outside government. Finding solutions to challenging issues requires power to be shared. Self-awareness from humility and reflection enables leaders to build relationships, leverage expertise, and serve the public good.