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The Table Video

Peter C. Hill

Practical Steps Toward Humble Leadership (Part 3 of 3)

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

Psychologist Peter Hill talks about practical steps . Part 3 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


Humility is something we’re just really beginning to get our research around for whatever reason. Perhaps it’s just because it is kind of this quiet virtue. It’s not something that necessarily people can easily develop, and also, quite honestly, even researchers have had a hard time really understanding what humility is. For various reasons we haven’t done a lot of research until the last few years. But I do want to point out what some of the research has to say, and I’m going to do this very briefly. And I think in so doing I think what’s really valuable is to ask yourself well, if this is what research says then what are the implications for how I am to live my life? Not only as a leader, but just simply in social relationships with each other, and for that matter in our relationship with god. So here are just a few things that we do know from some of the research.

First of all, most world religions, not just Christianity, promote humility as a virtue. And indeed, in most religious contexts, in most religious traditions we have found that indeed people who are more committed to their faith do tend to at least see themselves as being more humble. Now, I should pause for just a moment and say that much of this research is based upon self reports – how people see themselves. However, we are also interested in and have some measures that involve other reports of self humility regarding individuals such as leaders from subordinates. There are though perhaps some aspects of religion that are not going to be positively correlated with humility. For instance, people who adhere to a particular religious dogma and they have to insist that that’s right might not be displaying, and in fact, some research indicates that they are not displaying humility. Humility has also been shown to be negatively related to religious struggle. In other words, people who are more humble tend to experience less religious struggle in their own lives. Perhaps it’s because they’re willing to admit their own limitations.

Perhaps it’s because they’re willing to accept the idea that they are not perfect individuals. Furthermore, self-reported humility has been linked with many pro-social behaviors such as higher levels of forgiveness, such as greater empathy, such as being more thankful, and being more generous, and also being more committed to social justice. So humble individuals we have found are more inclined to appreciate the contributions that others make, and that they’re not always involved in this immediate tendency to self-compare. In other words, I can enjoy what somebody else might contribute to an organization. Maybe it’s to contribute to the welfare of other people without necessarily saying well, why didn’t I do that? Or why didn’t I think of that? Humble individuals are viewed by others as being kinder and gentler individuals, which is somewhat ironic, because we live in a society that says put your best foot forward, look good, be confident, be bold. And yet, the research seems to say that that’s not always what we look for in individuals. So just thinking about some of these traits the research seems to now suggest that’s related to humility I think each one of us could ask ourselves how humble, first of all, am I?

But secondly, how much committed am I to my religious faith and how does my sense of humility play into that? Do I have to necessarily have all the answers, even with regards to religious faith? Am I just bent on trying to win arguments about theological ideas or theological notions versus really trying to learn and to understand? Am I suffering from spiritual or religious struggles, and if I am, is it because I have such a strong sense of how perfect I should be? Do I demonstrate certain pro-social behaviors? Am I willing to forgive other people? If I find forgiveness something to be difficult to do I want to ask myself is it because I’m not being a very humble person and recognizing my own limitations and my own needs sometimes for forgiveness? Am I not very thankful? Am I not very generous? How committed am I to social justice? These are questions that we can and should ask of ourselves as barometers, or as gauges, if you will, of my own level of humility. Humility is a difficult concept to understand, but if some of these are indicators or are associated with humility, some of these traits, some of these characteristics, are things by which we can do some form of self-assessment.