The timeless topic of humility appears more timely than ever today.
Self-regard, self-assertion, self-consciousness…..self-, self-, self-… these are the found on the surface everywhere. Regrettably, they’re also found underneath the surface, time and again, when one gets to the root of common problems.
John Dickson, a Ph.D. from the highly regarded Macquarie University in Sydney, has produced a thoughtful, serviceable book on humility. He combines a historian’s perspective with a practical bent. The result is enchanting.
Humilitas opens with a definition of humility: the noble choice to forego your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. In sum, Dickson adds, humility is a willingness to hold power in service of others.
Dickson is emphatic and convincing in arguing that humility is a key component of effective leadership. As he says, “All organizations, even hugely hierarchical ones like the military, are still communities of people in [a] relationship.”
—Persuasion and example are keys to effective leadership.
—Humility enhances persuasiveness, partly because it is a compelling character trait in leaders.
—Therefore, humility is important for leadership.
As the book progresses, Dickson increasingly links leadership to service. This necessarily follows when he makes the practical case for humility. In this, he moves in sync with the findings and messages of Serve to Lead. Humility is the antithesis of pride. Pride is not only a deadly sin; it is also, arguably, the most vexatious, underlying every other failing by its cunning capacity to seed itself in any circumstances.
Service connotes an approach conceived in humility.
That is not to say that service, based in humility, will necessarily manifest itself in “humble” self-presentation.
One might diverge from Dickson here. He offers a “humble” approach as universally applicable for effectiveness in leadership and management. Surely this goes too far. If one’s focus is service, it may well be necessary to take an approach very far from “humble,” by any reckoning, depending on circumstances. The key is to focus on what best works to advance the goals and interests of those one is entrusted to serve. It took a Churchill to defeat a Hitler. The humility, such as there was, was implicit, not on the surface.
Some reviewers have criticized Dickson’s book as being too academic, removed from the real world. They apparently would prefer a workbook.
Such criticism misses the point in at least two ways. First, Dickson, an academic with a strong focus on Christian themes, has written the book he set out to write. He’s quite clear about his approach from the start, so readers are forewarned. There are no false pretenses here.
More importantly, Dickson offers the readers a way of thinking. He proposes it, backs it up with a myriad of examples, and leaves it to the reader to craft her own approach.
The bottom line: Humilitas is a fine book. It can stimulate thought and guide action for anyone seeking to make a greater contribution in their life and work. I recommend it highly.
John Dickson | Humilitas