Leading Together: Intellectual Humility and Servant Leadership in Christian Ministry
Are pastors more or less humble than other people? Dr. Peter Hill and Dr. Elizabeth Krumrei-Mancuso discuss the importance of intellectual humility and servant leadership in Christian ministry. Dr. Krumrei-Mancuso unpacks the results of a recent study of U.S. pastors. As Dr. Krumrei-Mancuso says, “There is a weak to non-existent relationship between how confident we are about something and how right we are about that thing.”
Leadership is pretty popular in Christian circles. In some sense, what I get, or what I got from it in my youth as a Christian, was that every Christian was supposed to be a leader and I wonder if you might comment on what it’s like to have a room full of leaders and how humility can facilitate a process by which all of these people which are geared toward influence and leadership, they might actually operate as a group. What do you think about leaders interacting together?
So often it depends on what Liz alluded to a little while ago, and that is your understanding of leadership. If it’s servant leadership, if everybody has that attitude, leaders operating together can be a very effective tool. If, on the other hand, it’s a power struggle then of course it’s very ineffective. I think we have to investigate and think about, well, really what is leadership and what is my motive for being a leader? I think that’s so important, and if it’s just to exert influence or just to exert power, to get my way, to try to convince other people that I and perhaps I alone am right, then that’s a recipe for problems in the church or in any organization.
It sounds then, that your conception of humility can have a really deep impact on your conception of leadership and how you go about trying to lead?
Okay. Liz, you’ve been looking also at some studies. You were looking at a nationally representative sample of US pastors, and comparing them to other people and thinking about their intellectual humility with respect to others so, are pastors more or less intellectually humble than other people?
That project was actually a Barna Group Research project where they collected this great sample, nationally representative sample of US pastors, where they looked up all of the churches with addresses, or email addresses, or phone numbers and then also got a random digit dial sample of US adults and then they used a few of the items on a scale of intellectual humility that I had developed. We don’t have overall scores for intellectual humility because they didn’t use a whole scale, but they were just looking at, on those items, how do pastors respond compared to the general population? And for the most part, pastors were on par or even were expressing slightly more intellectual humility than the general population. The item that stood out most where they were expressing intellectual humility compared to others was one about their willingness to change their minds when warranted. Pastors seemed to be expressing yeah, when it comes down to it, I am willing to change my mind when I realize I’ve been wrong. But then on the other hand, the item where pastors really were expressing a lot less intellectual humility than the general population was an item about, the statement was, when I’m really confident in a belief, there’s very little chance that I’m wrong. Where 44% of the general population agreed with that statement, 69% of pastors were agreeing that statement, so this idea that well, when I am really confident, then I’m probably not wrong. And so, some people say well isn’t that the case? Doesn’t my confidence relate to how likely I am to be right? But what we know from research in general is that that’s not the case. So there’s a weak to non-existent relationship between how confident we feel about something and about how right we are about that thing.
And we’ve seen very sad and tragic examples of the contrary.
Yeah, absolutely. I think what we can realize, what can be helpful for religious leaders and for all of us, is that that’s a cognitive bias to which we’re all prone as individuals. It’s not that we can even get rid of that cognitive bias, necessarily, but just being aware of that cognitive bias. So when I feel really confident or really sure about something, just to be aware, that doesn’t mean that I’m right, I could still be wrong, but that can be a really helpful tool for religious leaders and for all of us. I know for me, it helps me in my marriage. When I’m having an argument with my husband, and I feel like I’m sure that this is the case, to just realize well, the science says that doesn’t mean that I’m right, I could be completely wrong And even things like eyewitness testimony. We know that even when people are really sure about what they saw, they’re often wrong and so it’s not very reliable at all. That’s hard sometimes to get across to a jury who thinks this person is saying they saw this, so it has to be true. We all fall into that bias, and so awareness I think is the key there.
I’m gonna have to try that. Bringing some scientific data to my next argument with my wife. [laughter]
Peter: Good luck.