Humility at the Helm

Light of truth

Rose Mary

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).

Rohit had just received his twelfth standard report card and his entire family was celebrating with him. His marks were outstanding, and his mother was sure that he would find a place for himself in one of the medical colleges in the country. After all, he had spent two years in earnest preparation for the entrance exam. As a treat for his near and dear ones Rohithad stepped into his mother’s kitchen to prepare a lovely chocolate cake with buttercream icing. His culinary expertise was much appreciated and, as always, the cake disappeared in no time.

As the evening wore on, his father called him aside for a serious talk. ‘Rohit, where do you see yourself after five years?’ The question from his father jolted him. After five minutes of silence and deep thought, he replied quietly, ‘I see myself as a chef running my own restaurant.’ The conversation ended there. Instead of medical college Rohit passed an All India entrance exam for catering institutes and made it to the best hotel management programme in Mumbai.

Rohit’s story signifies a change that is slowly seeping into the concept of parenting. Very often, parents practise a top-down approach wherein they arbitrarily decided what is ‘best’ for their ward ignoring any requests on the contrary. Children are pushed into professional programmes they have no aptitude for. Engineering colleges regularly churn out students with a lengthy list of back papers after four long years, and both parent and child realize too late that their choices were wrong. Of late, however, this situation is slowly being replaced by a relationship that reflects humility in its essence. Parental domination is being supplanted with discussions that pay greater attention to the aspirations and interests of the child rather than what is in keeping with social and parental expectations.

This is not only true of the homefront: the dynamics in the workplace is also changing perceptibly. For many years business organizations have extolled the virtues of six sigma, cost cutting and quality checks. These profit making mechanisms have reduced and even eradicated opportunities for interpersonal exchanges with the workforce. Each employee was viewed as a tool whose efficiency had to be enhanced and monitored to make the numbers. However, a new kind of leadership is slowly taking root that has injected humanity and warmth into the lifeless world of profit—one that is termed as humble leadership.

A scholarly definition of this brand of leadership describes it as one that acknowledges that something greater than the self exists. A humble manager has a clear understanding of his own strengths and weaknesses. He is thus open to ideas from others and has a genuine understanding of the weaknesses of his employees. He is able to form strong relational bonds with them that generate loyalty and sincerity. These, in turn, provide the right kind of motivation to spur organizational progress.

Perhaps the most charismatic example of humble leadership in today’s world is Pope Francis. In word, deed and action, His Holiness has projected an image that overflows with humility. A biographical account of Pope Francis’s life by Paul Vallely tells us that humility was a virtue that His Holiness acquired painfully through his life, through difficult and humiliating experiences which strengthened him and humbled him in the bargain. Perhaps this trial by fire was in preparation for the task that the Lord had earmarked for him – as the leader of His flock.

In the Scriptures, Jesus Christ categorically places humility as a top-of-the-list priority for a practising Christian. Through direct statements and through parables, the message is clearly spelt out that only the humble of heart will enter God’s kingdom. He also points out different ways to reach this goal. One could be innately humble like the tax collector in the temple who acknowledged his sinfulness and begged for mercy from the Lord. One could also come down from a position of pride like the prodigal son, who wasted his fortunes on worldly pleasures and then faced hunger and deprivation, along with the humiliation of being denied even the food that the pigs ate. This state of misery led to true humbleness of heart as he decided to return to his father’s home as a servant.

Humility is the hallmark of a true Christian, but more importantly, our Lord stresses on this quality for leaders, teachers and parents — people at the helm who guide the course of those who follow. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

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