A leader was asked, “Who is your greatest enemy?” The ironic reply was, “Every morning, I see that person in the mirror.” We can be our own worst enemy. It is hard at times to get out of our own way. How do leaders confront the enemy within their organization, team, workplace, or themselves? Where do they find internal peace?
Shalom is Hebrew for peace. It means fullness, completeness, wholeness, calmness, harmony without anxiety or stress. It connotes a sense of vitality and passion that penetrates the very fibre of being human. Shalom is found when we set the right priorities and keep the right perspective.
Peace is so much more than the absence of conflict. It is also a condition of the heart, mind, and relationships. It allows intimacy, fellowship, and goodwill among people. Everyone wants peace, but most of us experience more stress than peace. How do we live in peace while dealing with stress?
Seventeenth-century French author François de La Rochefoucauld wrote, “Nothing is so contagious as example; and we never do any great good or evil which does not produce its like.” Leaders who lead by example show precisely how specific behaviours influence organizational performance. Even narcissistic leaders can have positive effects on followers when their narcissism is tempered by humility.
Humility is an interpersonal characteristic that indicates willingness to view oneself accurately, openness to new ideas and feedback, and appreciation of others’ strengths and contributions. Psychometric studies demonstrate that leader humility influences team interaction patterns and performance. When leaders behave humbly, followers emulate their behaviours, enhancing collective humility and team potential.
Humility is teachable and learnable. It is at the heart of emotional intelligence. A 2017 Harvard Business Review framework sets out four domains, nested with twelve competencies:
- Self-awareness – emotional self-awareness;
- Self-management – emotional self-control, adaptability, achievement orientation, positive outlook;
- Social awareness – empathy, organizational awareness; and
- Relationship management – influence, coaching and mentorship, conflict management, teamwork, inspirational leadership.
Leaders need to develop balanced strengths across these competencies for performance to follow. Self-assessments and 360-degree tools are used to pinpoint abilities, predict leadership outcomes, and chart satisfaction. Large gaps between self-ratings and others’ assessments indicate fewer strengths and poorer results. Coaching is effective in reducing skill deficits and in creating room for career growth.
Public humiliation can be confidence-crushing for leaders who take pride in appearing to have it all together. It can also be a transformative pathway to personal growth. It starts with letting go of false pride and refocusing on the people you are privileged to lead. Self-esteem is grounded in self-respect and improves with experiential learning from uncomfortable exposures. Nothing rivets personal fidelity more than having to be a role model.
Calling servant leaders
In traditional African societies, leadership succession is a serious decision. Great care is taken in selecting the next chief or ruler. Besides lineage, successors must be strong, fearless, and sensible. Candidates are questioned to determine if they will serve the people or rule with a heavy hand. Successors need to serve, as well as to lead. They need wisdom for the humility to serve rather than be served.
Wisdom resides with the well-advised who listen, learn, and allow themselves to be instructed. There is wisdom in those who humble themselves – ¾those who set aside selfish ambition, acknowledge their limits of understanding, listen to other points of view, allow their ideas to be corrected. This kind of wisdom spreads peace wherever it goes.
Selfishness and superiority can divide people, such that a house divided cannot stand. Humility unites. It is the quality of being one in spirit and of mind. Disagreements can be diffused by giving up the right to be right. Humility calls upon grace and gentleness instead of insisting on getting what we want. Humility values others above ourselves.
In public service, the ethic is strong. Public servants are called daily to administer to excellence in public service. They do it selflessly and with humility.