The Employee Engagement Network

Humility Essential to Influence the Values of Others

Michael Lee Stallard and Jason Pankau

In a recent post, I (Michael) wrote about a leader who imparted his values to the people he was responsible for leading at work and to his children. In this post, we’ll address the “pride paradox” that relates to values.

Imparting one’s values to others and judging them based on their values has the potential to create a culture of self-righteousness and legalism. Mark Twain alluded to this when he described some people as “good in the worst sense of the word.”

Don’t get us wrong, great leaders impart their values to others and judge others by their values. Herein lies the paradox. Some leaders who do this fail to develop what is arguably the most important character value: humility. Humility is not easily developed when you have wealth, power and/or status. It’s especially difficult to develop humility without the help of others. Values such as work ethic, excellence and open-mindedness can be cultivated with practice. Not so with humility.

Humility develops in several ways. We absorb humility from being around family and friends who are humble. Humility also tends to come to those who experience adversity and suffering at some point in their lives. The Bible says suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. It is full of stories about individuals whose suffering made them humbler, wiser, more patient and determined.

Some of our favorite books deal with this topic. In
Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer writes about his struggles with depression and how it helped him find his calling as a writer and thought leader. In Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk, we see how Abraham Lincoln’s suffering from depression throughout his adult life developed humility and determination. In The Upside of Adversity, Os Hillman writes about how suffering from divorce and financial struggles shaped him in positive ways. Jim Collins described the humility of Level 5 leaders in Good to Great and how it often came as the result of a life threatening event or religious experience. I (Michael) wrote about how my wife's battles with breast and advanced ovarian cancer changed me in Alone No Longer.

Suffering reduces pride and develops humility when we hit a point in our lives that we are unable to make it on our own and as a result turn to God, and to our family and friends to help us persevere. It’s no coincidence that admitting one’s weakness, seeking a higher power and the support of others are key elements in successful 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Adversity and suffering force us to connect. As a result of experiencing suffering and having to persevere, we become humbler, kinder, more merciful and forgiving. These character values make us better at remaining connected with God and with the people in our lives.

Notice too that individuals who experience suffering and adversity often develop a groundedness that you sense when you’re around them. They typically have the moral confidence that influences others and they do so in a loving, patient way rather than forcing their values upon others.

In summary, imparting one’s values is wise so long as it comes from a spirit of humility. Staying connected with God, family and friends who help us grow in character keeps us humble so that we have greater influence on the values of those around us.

Michael Lee Stallard and Jason Pankau are the co-authors of
Fired Up or Burned Out. They speak and teach workshops on leadership, employee engagement, productivity and innovation at business organizations, social sector organizations, churches and universities. For additional information see (and for churches see

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Comment by Lisa Sibley on October 7, 2010 at 8:27am
I can so relate to the views on humility, authenticity, being self aware and experience has taught me the importance of not allowing pride to be a destructive defence, it has an important place but also negates humility. But doesn't it take real courage to have those "difficult conversations" - having been in my role at Essex for 18 months now I am convinced that a key purpose of my job is to create opportunities for real conversations, these being the key to healthier, happier workplaces. I'm going to get on to Amazon to order the Mary Gentile book, thank you for the recommendation.
Comment by Michael Lee Stallard on September 28, 2010 at 12:10pm

The publisher was kind enough to send me a review copy of Giving Voice to Values. After reading your comments I'm looking forward to starting it when I come up for air. Many thanks for your recommendation.

Comment by Robert Morris on September 28, 2010 at 11:59am
I always appreciate any thoughts and feelings you wish to share and these are among your most important, in my opinion, because they focus on authenticity, the foundation of credibility. In its absence, there can be no trust. I very much admire Mary Gentile's latest book, Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You know What's Right. I urge those who have no as yet read it to check it out. I agree with you that "individuals who experience suffering and adversity often develop a groundedness." They are also among those who "speak to power" rather than preserve their neutrality in a moral crisis. Thank you for your insights.

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