When managing others, how should I balance the important attribute of confidence (“I know this is what we should do and how we should get there”) with humility (“I need your insight on what we should do or how we should get there”)?
You ask a good question that applies to Christians in all spheres of influence. Let’s first look at the idea of confidence, then how it relates to serving with humility those you manage.
I want to offer a word of caution about self-confidence. While God wants you to manage your team with courage and proficiency, you must remember where your ability to do so ultimately lies. Your competence is not inherently your own; God’s grace provides you with every aspect of what you need to lead well.
Confidence for the Christian must not be based on what you can bring to the table, but on what Christ has already brought to you. He has guided your life, giving you work experiences that likely prepared you for this current role (Acts 17:25–26, 28). He placed you in your present leadership position (Rom. 13:1). He enabled you to learn and grow in managerial skills (1 Cor. 4:7). All of this is from him, so that your boast may be in the Lord and not yourself (1 Cor. 1:31).
As you lead, then, temper your confidence with humility that recognizes your own finiteness and fallibility. Create tasks and set deadlines for your team to the best of your ability, but with a heart that says, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13–17). This confidence in the Lord will naturally bring humility to your leadership, since you depend on him as you make managerial decisions.
Paradox of Christian Leadership
Christians are called to an odd paradox: lead others from a God-given position of authority, yet serve their needs above your own. It’s tricky because our fallenness tends to push our leadership toward dominance, superiority, or fear-based control—all of which are contrary to humility.
Jesus pointed out this tendency in the high-ranking leaders of his day. He rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocritical spiritual leadership, and he criticized the rulers of the Gentiles who lorded their power over the people and acted as tyrants (Matt. 23:1–36; 20:25).
But “elitism is not inherent to leadership,” James Hunter states in To Change the World. “Though the pretensions of influence and authority are ever-present, and the opportunities for hubris everywhere, there is a different way modeled on the leadership of Jesus who rejected status and its privileges.”
Jesus and Servant Leadership
Jesus perfectly embodied the paradox of servant leadership. There was no greater humiliation than the second person of the Godhead taking on flesh and becoming not just a man, but a servant of men who suffered a criminal’s death. This One, who could have clung to the privileges of deity, chose to lay down those advantages and sacrifice himself for the good of those he served (Phil 2:3–8). And this sacrificial, lay-your-life-down leadership is what he calls us to through the Spirit (Matt. 20:26–28; Col. 1:29).
It’s interesting to note that Jesus’s followers never questioned his confidence or his humility. Both attributes were dynamically present in his leadership. They knew he was in charge, and they recognized how he humbled himself for them.
For example, he sent out the disciples with clear instructions to obey, which showed his authority. Yet his humility was so obvious as he washed their feet that Peter insisted Jesus not degrade himself by performing such a demeaning act (Luke 10:1–12; Mark 6:7–13; John 13:6–8).
Practical Ways to Humbly Lead Your Team
So ask God to give you specific ideas for how to serve your team. Here are a few options:
- Say thank you. When a staff member completes an assignment, these two simple words will speak dignity to them as image-bearers and validate the meaning of their work.
- Actually serve them. Find tangible ways to meet their needs, whether that’s helping carry supplies for an upcoming event or grabbing their print pieces from the copier.
- Take them to lunch. And don’t talk about work. Get to know them on a personal level, so they know you care about them beyond how their work benefits you in the office.
- Sacrifice for them. Willingly take the worst shift on a time-sensitive project. Choose their ideas rather than your own. Solicit critique. Receive interruptions gladly. Reject privilege by keeping the same (or more) office hours as they do.
- Invite them into your home. Host the team’s annual Christmas party or provide lunch at your house for an important brainstorming meeting.
I pray the Spirit empowers you to manage and serve your team in a way that reflects the humility and love of Jesus.