Pride is an ever-present temptation for leaders.
In the world’s eyes, pride in leadership may actually seem beneficial. Today, prideful leaders are often celebrated because they seem “successful.” By mere force of their seemingly self-assured personalities, they shake up the status quo and make change happen. But their temporary “success” comes at a profound cost. What seems like success in the world’s eyes is actually failure from God’s perspective. Pride’s tidal wave always leaves behind a devastating wake of damage to both organizations and people.
Scripture offers us many warnings on pride:
The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled) … (Is. 2:12).
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom (Prov. 11:2).
A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride, but the lips of the wise protect them (Prov. 14:3).
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov. 16:18).
Pride leads to a fall. Much like the mythical flight of Icarus, the leader who soars in self-adulatory egotism will inevitably crash to earth.
Today, we see political leaders reveling in Tweet-fueled hubris and self-serving hyperbole. Ministry leaders too can obsess over building their personal brand. This may garner momentary acclaim, but it does not protect those leaders from the inevitable outcomes of pride. That’s why we must remain vigilant in watching for pride in leadership.
Five Markers of Pride in Leadership
Leaders who operate from a reservoir of pride are often unable to admit mistakes. There is always someone else to blame. Genuine apologies are rare.
Prideful leaders often create dysfunctional cultures of chaos. Their organizations exhibit an inevitable churn of staff members who are routinely denied credit yet assigned blame.
Pride, being a root sin, may bear the forbidden fruit of other hidden sins in a leader’s life. That might be a lack of fidelity in marriage or an array of other temporarily hidden sins.
The prideful leader is often unable to take criticism well. Such leaders lack self-confidence, and at times will seek to build themselves up by tearing others down.
In the end, prideful leaders lack wisdom. They make poor decisions because their falsely perceived self-sufficiency keeps them from following wise counsel: “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice” (Prov. 12:15).
Character ultimately tells out. Pride in leadership may secure short-term “success,” but it always guarantees long-term failure.
The Path of Humility
There is a better way—the path of humility. We see this in the Apostle Paul’s description of Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)
We, too, are exhorted to follow that path:
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up (James 4:10).
The late Rev. Billy Graham is a great example of humble Christ-honoring leadership. In an article for Outcomes magazine entitled “Billy Graham’s Leadership: Humble Availability to God,” A. Larry Ross, who served as Graham’s principal media spokesperson for more than half of his six decades of public ministry, shared this telling quote:
Former crusade director Rick Marshall said that, at the height of his career, the evangelist “had extraordinary gifts. He had a presence; he was great with people; he had a wonderful personality and great skills as an orator. But there was a humility despite all of those outward appearances that you couldn’t explain.”
Marshall further observed that while Billy Graham recognized and appreciated his giftings, he had no desire to use them for self-promotion or personal gain.
What a refreshing example of leading with Christ-like humility. May we, too, resist the temptation of pride in leadership and follow the path of humility. It’s what the world needs to see—today more than ever.
- Do you see markers of pride in your own leadership?
- Do you judge the success of leaders from a worldly or biblical perspective?
- How can we better follow the humble way of Jesus’ leadership?