Humility in Leaders, Part 1: The Elusive Virtue

This article series contains excerpts from The Perfect Leader: Practicing the Leadership Traits of God by Ken Boa. To read more on humility and other attributes and skills of leaders, purchase the e-book in our online store here.


The modern notion of “self-made” people pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps and, by the sweat of their own brow, climbing to the pinnacle of success is so deeply embedded in our consciousness that any other possibility seems foreign.

It is humbling to recognize that God is more responsible for the achievements of our lives than we are, that we are people who have been given our abilities, time, and opportunities. These are not our own, but gifts from God, and we will ultimately give an account for what we do with what we have been given (cf. Matthew 25:14–30).

Humility is such an elusive virtue. As soon as we think we have it, we don’t. That’s part of the problem: When we finally achieve humility, we get proud of ourselves. Our humility cries out for recognition. Humility is terribly fragile.

Yet, humility is a key attribute for effective leadership. And key to humility is getting our eyes off ourselves and onto Another—the One from whom and for whom and through whom all things are (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16–20).

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Looking to the Perfect Leader

The supreme biblical example of humility is Jesus—the incarnate God who made Himself known in our world. In Philippians 2, we learn about Christ’s self-emptying servant nature. Here we find an important principle in Scripture: before honor comes humility.

Before honor comes humility.

Paul writes these words first:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5–8)

Notice the shift in the next three verses from humility to exaltation:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)

From this beautiful passage we learn three things about our Lord that model for us the essence of true humility:

  1. Jesus didn’t selfishly cling to the outer expression of His divinity. Instead, He took the form of a servant.
  2. Jesus demonstrated His humility through obedience to the Father. Instead of trying to impose His will on God, He submitted to God’s will for Him.
  3. Jesus waited for His Father to lift Him up. He didn’t grab for power; He patiently waited for God to provide the increase in His time. And now, seated in power at the right hand of God, He intercedes on our behalf (Acts 5:29–32).

As the perfect model for godly leadership, Jesus set the perfect example of humility. Honor comes from God, and it comes—as counterintuitive as it seems—as the result of downward mobility.

Honor comes from God, and it comes—as counterintuitive as it seems—as the result of downward mobility.
—Ken Boa

Jesus Christ, the most powerful man ever to walk on the face of the earth, was also the most humble man who ever lived. His agenda was never to promote Himself, but to please His Father by loving and serving others.

We are called to emulate that humility.


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