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The Table Video

Peter C. Hill

The Marks of a Humble Leader (Part 2 of 3)

Professor of Psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University
July 3, 2019

Psychologist Peter Hill explains the essential components of the virtue of humility and focuses on the traits and effectiveness of humble leaders. Part 2 of a 3 part lesson on How to Become a Humble Leader, a free segment included in @BiolaCCT’s ecourse “Seeking Christian Wisdom on Life’s Big Questions.” To register for the course, visit


What comes to your mind when you hear the word humility, or being humble? For many people it, what comes to their mind is the Uriah Heep character. If you might remember Uriah Heep, he was one of the most famous of all Dickens’ characters. And the stereotypical representation that he portrayed was a person who was, had a low state of mind, who had low self esteem, who had a tendency to self deprecate. About 75 years ago C.S. Lewis was aware that maybe that’s a tendency that we all have to think of humble people, or even the word humility as this notion of a low state of mind, or low self esteem. He said this, “Thousands of humans have been “brought to think that humility means “pretty people trying to believe they are ugly, “and clever men trying to believe they are fools.” Now if you actually do have that notion of humility, or of what it means to be a humble person, quite honestly, you’re probably not going to be a very good humble leader. Because none of us I think want a leader that is always down on themselves, tends to self deprecate, or who communicates a low self esteem.

So that’s not really what we’re talking about with regards to humility. It’s not to be equated with timidity, with weakness, or an inability to assert ones self. If you had that, then you’re in the wrong business if you wanna be a leader. Humility really I think is an attitude. It’s an attitude toward the self as well as an attitude toward other people. Because we are always in relation with other people. So humble people do not see themselves at the center of the universe. And a leader should not be seeing himself or herself at the center of the universe. A humble leader should lack the sort of egocentric emotionalism that they have to see everything revolving around themselves. Now I think a cautionary note though is important here. Doesn’t mean that we’re not significant. It doesn’t mean that what we think, or say, or do is unimportant. But rather humility stems from a fundamental sense of security and personal worth. That it’s the individual who can look at himself or herself honestly, and identify what are both personal strengths and personal limitations. And to do so in a balanced and non defensive sort of way. The humble leader is not one who’s going to try to impress or dominate others. Nor do they have an exaggerated sense of entitlement or self importance. Rather they’re going to feel safe in admitting personal limitations. They’re going to be open to new ideas, and advice, and information. And if you recall earlier when we talked about why is this something important, it’s going to form social bonds, and it’s going to create social oil, especially in relationships where there might be sometimes competing ideas and other competitive tendencies.

So I think when we’re really getting down at the heart of what we’re talking about with regards to humility, I think we’re really talking about two primary things. And these are actually characteristics that philosophers have wrestled with for now decades. And while they all aren’t in agreement on which is the most important, there seems to be consensus that both of these characteristics are important characteristics of what it means to be humble. Number one is to not have an overly great concern of your own self importance. That the idea that you are entitled to certain things even when you are in a position of leadership. Even if you are the President of a company that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are entitled to things that other individuals are not necessarily also entitled to.

The second characteristic is that you are willing to admit some of your own limitations. And therefore you, even as a leader are going to be teachable. Teachable from the ideas of other people. And that then likewise gives those people a sense of voice in decision making. It gives them a sense of involvement that their voice does matter, and that they are individuals who have something to say for the benefit of the organization. I think more than anything else, when I said it’s an attitude, an attitude toward the self, that it’s not just an attitude toward the self, but it’s seeing one’s self in relationship with others. It’s seeing one’s self for the betterment of other people. And it’s also seeing one’s self for the betterment of the institution, whatever that institution might be that you are the leader over, rather than your own self advancement.