89. Charismatic or humble leader?

There have been various studies carried out to compare these two qualities of charisma and humility.  However, it’s not a question of ‘Am I this or am I that’, the issue is, ‘How do I glorify God in the best way possible with who I am?’  We are probably aware of our level of charisma: our ability to create rapport and inspire others or to use our gifts of communication and connect with our audience.  Perhaps it’s a little harder to identify our humility quotient! It’s like the man who was awarded a badge for his humility but then had to have it taken away because he wore it!  Charisma is more an outward quality and humility is more of an inward value.  Jesus would be our star model of carrying both these qualities and knowing how to mix them together in a wonderful blend. He was obviously attractive to the crowds with his great story telling and personal approach to everyone. A few miracles of healing and lavish picnics of bread and fish helped too!  However, he also shared with the marginalised woman at the well, took time to see a scared Pharisee at night, washed the feet of his own disciples and wasn’t afraid to mix with prostitutes and tax collectors. He pioneered with a band of followers to preach the good news of the kingdom and used both these qualities to fulfil his mandate.

It’s one thing for Jesus to have this wonderful mix of charisma and humility, we, however have to be careful. I don’t tend to think of myself as a charismatic leader, although perhaps I have my moments and always inwardly have wanted to express more charisma!  I like to think of myself as humble but I am aware that its more than an outward style and there is often a battle going on inside with attitudes that are anything but humble.  Humility is all about our heart alignment, our motives, who we are serving and who gets the glory.

I came across an interesting article by Margarita Mayo, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IE Business School in Madrid. She says, ‘The research is clear: when we choose humble, unassuming people as our leaders, the world around us becomes a better place.  Humble leaders improve the performance of a company in the long run because they create more collaborative environments. They have a balanced view of themselves – both their virtues and shortcomings – and a strong appreciation of others’ strengths and contributions, while being open to new ideas and feedback. These “unsung heroes” help their believers to build their self-esteem, go beyond their expectations, and create a community that channels individual efforts into an organized group that works for the good of the collective.

Studies have also shown that humility is contagious – A study of 161 teams found that employees following humble leaders were themselves more likely to admit their mistakes and limitations, share the spotlight by deflecting praise to others, and be open to new ideas, advice, and feedback.

The problem is, we don’t tend to look for these humble leaders and seek to promote them. We usually look for the charismatic leader, who tends to have more trouble in working on their humility. Personally, I have so appreciated the feedback that I receive from others that have highlighted how I have come across in my leadership.  Just recently I asked for some help in my written communication and received the feedback that ‘it seemed to be all about me!’  It was true and I quickly adjusted the content.  We all need this kind of feedback to show up our blind spots and help the development of humility.

The Greek wordKharisma means “divine gift,” and charisma is the quality of extraordinary charm, magnetism, and presence that makes a person capable of inspiring others with enthusiasm and devotion.  This is obviously why we like to choose these kinds of leaders.  They are high energy, dramatic, easy to follow type of people.  Professor Mayo shares in her article, ‘Researchers agree that we could classify charismatic leaders as “negative” or “positive” by their orientation toward pursuing their self-interested goals versus those of their groups. These two sides of charismatic leadership have also been called personalizedand socialized charisma.  So, as a charismatic leader, your goal must be to centre on the development of others, rather than on any aspect of self-interest.

So, what can you and I do, to develop as humble leaders?
1. Allow Jesus to rub off on you: Phil 2:5-8 “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had… he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being…. he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” As we spend time with people, their qualities rub off on us. We read, ‘Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another.’ Barry Austin was my DTS leader and I learned so much from him. Perhaps one of the key values and qualities that rubbed off on me was his focus on practical teaching with clear application through questions. I don’t remember ever listening to one his sessions without him giving us time for application and questions to help us know how to make the topic real in our lives.  That value has become a part of my life and a value that I now live out in my leadership.  If this can take place in our relationships together, then spending quality and quantity time with Jesus is the greatest way of seeing his humility rub off on us.

  1. Practice affirmation:Isaiah 35:3 “..strengthen those who have tired hands, and encourage those who have weak knees.”One of the main qualities of an A team is that they like one another. They observe one another’s strengths and affirm one another in those strengths. Each person knows they are valued and a key part of the team.  They do also see the weaknesses of team members but they cover them for one another. There’s nothing quite like being in a team where others notice what you are doing well and tell you about it.
  2. Make consulting with others a rule of life:Prov 24:6 “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” Recognise the fact that you need others’ observations, knowledge, opinions, gifts and perspective in your life. There are the rare occasions when crisis hits and decisions need to be made quickly and where there is no time to consult but these really are rare. You, like me, have probably been on the receiving end of a decision that affected you, that you had no opportunity of influencing. That is usually very frustrating. Of course, these situations do provide great opportunities for your humility to grow!
  3. Embrace and promote a spirit of service: Matt 20:28 “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”You don’t have to have amazing skills in emotional intelligence to pick up when a leader is dedicated to help you succeed or is a leader who works on their own agenda at the expense of yours.  Qualities like being available, understanding, helping and releasing, go a long way to connect you to others and they are all part of this all important trait of humility.
  4. Listen, really listen: Luke 8:8 “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”This is the other side of consulting shared in point 3.  Why do we often find it so hard to listen?  It is easy to have a self-oriented mentality of: ‘I know what to do in this situation’, or ‘My idea is best’, or being so caught up in your focus that you can’t hear what anyone else is saying.  Humility is convinced that her ideas aren’t the greatest and there is always room for someone else to rise up for the moment. Listening isn’t just for work orientation though, it enhances all of our relationships. In listening we find out how the other person really thinks, feels and dreams.
  5. Ask questions:Luke 2:46 “Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions.” The coaching approach helps the development of humility, because you as the coach, you are doing less of the talking and simply drawing out the other person through question asking. I remember what a struggle it was when I first started the coach training.  I wanted to share my opinions with the individual so badly but I had to choose to remain silent. Asking questions puts the other person on the platform and in the limelight.

The challenge of growing in humility is that the humble person doesn’t reflect on attitudes, behaviour and communication and think to himself or herself – that was really humble!  The measure and affirmation of humility always comes from others.

Until next month




Some more signs of a humble spirit:

  • You are happy to take a back seat without platform time, serve behind the scenes, and forego sharing your wisdom and resources with everyone.
  • You have an identity outside of your leadership role and so can be relaxed, relational and not need the limelight.
  • You are quick to apologise for any inappropriate action, attitude or wrong doing.
  • You are happy for someone else to take the credit for success and willing to take the blame and cover someone else’s mistakes on the team.
  • You are aware of weaknesses and limitations and are able and willing to staff them.
  • You don’t take on responsibility beyond your capacity and character.
  • You are able to converse with others without name dropping, having to express your fruitfulness and success or bolstering your image in some way.
  • You are able to step up to challenges and use your gifts even when you may not be fully prepared or the result is less than perfect.
  • You call on others when they have gifts and skills to bring to the table.
  • You are ready to share your current failures and mistakes, and seek out accountability to stay strong.


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