The Power of Humility


Do you think humility is a strong character trait?  If you hear that a person is a humble leader, do you assume the person is weak?  Is humility in a leader a good thing or a bad thing?

humility word in mixed vintage metal type printing blocks over grunge wood

I have worked for humble leaders and self-important leaders.  I have also studied many leaders throughout history.  Notable leaders in history include Jesus Christ, Mahatma Ghandi, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington.  These four had a strong sense of self-confidence.  I personally believe humility is a powerful character trait for a leader to have and it will increase the likelihood of success for a leader.  I also believe that a humble leader must have strong (but not overly so) self-confidence.

I read two books this year that have sparked my review of humility in leadership.  One of the books was on humility as a trait and the other talked about a particularly humble leader that is not well known.  The first book about humility was “The Power of a Humble Life” by Richard E. Simmons.  The author considers one of life’s greatest paradoxes – that strength is found in humility.  Read the book synopsis on Goodreads  (  I highly recommend this book! 

The second book was “Indianapolis:  The True Story of the Worst Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man,” by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic.  I started reading this book because I’m a World War II history buff and heard it was good.  I knew about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and wanted to read the latest book about the tragedy.  Read the book synopsis on Goodreads (  The story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, late in the war by a Japanese submarine, has been the subject of many books.  This book also examines the leadership of the skipper, Captain Charles McVay III.  Captain McVay was one of the survivors and was unjustly court-martialed for the loss of the ship.  Most of the survivors fully supported Captain McVay and respected his style of leadership.  The fact that many of them worked tirelessly for fifty years to set the record straight speaks to their respect of Captain McVay.

I’ve had the privilege of working with and/or observing a few humble leaders.  The first one was my father.  I’ve already written about him a couple of times, so will refer you to one of my posts ( ) for a start.

One of my favorite bosses and leaders was Thom Garrett.  Thom was the General Manager of trading at Chevron.  I worked with Thom for six years in various roles and then for a few years more until he retired.  Thom graduated from West Point and served as an 82nd Airborne Ranger in Vietnam.  With that military background, I expected a tough, rigid leader.  He was anything but.  I learned so much from him, both as a leader and a man of faith.  He was always very open and approachable.  He inspired through example.  Thom lived the life of a humble leader.

I also worked for Dave O’Reilly before he became CEO of Chevron.  I first heard of Dave from someone who had worked with him for many years.  He referred to Dave as “the CIW” – CEO in Waiting. Dave O’Reilly was in the queue to become CEO of Chevron.  Later, I was asked by a different manager to give a presentation to Dave when he came to visit our group.  I worked up a draft one Sunday on a flipchart in my office.  I brought my youngest daughter Hannah with me.  She worked on an assignment while I worked on my presentation.  Hannah asked me for ideas for a cover design for her report, so I made a sketch on the corner of my flipchart.

The next day, I showed my boss the flipchart and got her approval.  She liked the presentation.  I told her I would clean it up and put it in a PowerPoint presentation for our meeting with Dave.  Her response was “leave it on the flipchart, it’s just Dave.”  When I gave my presentation Dave also liked it.  He asked only one question – what was the drawing in the corner?  I told him about Hannah’s report.  He said he liked that idea as well!  I was touched.

A few years later, Dave was named CEO of Chevron.  He continued the tradition of an annual town hall.  I lived in Houston and got to attend the town hall in person since Dave was visiting for the broadcast.  I approached Dave to say hello, and he surprised me.  He asked me if Hannah got a good grade on that report – he remembered!  He was a great CEO and a humble leader.

In addition to reflecting on my personal experience with humble leaders, I did a little internet research and found quite a tremendous amount of information validating the theory that humility is a characteristic of good leadership.  Some of the notable website articles included:

One of my favorite Bible verses is Philippians 2:3, which says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”  This verse summarizes my view of humility in leadership.  It is a key leadership trait.  Humility in leaders attracts followers – most people are willing to follow a humble, authentic leader.  The facades some leaders try aren’t real.  People see through them easily.

Do you agree with me that humility is a vital part of effective leadership?  I welcome your insight and thoughts on this.  If you’d like to discuss this topic, or any other leadership perspective, please email me at [email protected].