A couple of months ago my family came together during a difficult time, when my father had a stroke. As we gathered together in the hospital, often our conversations would turn to our memories of the words of wisdom he had shared over the years. Some of it was quite funny, but all of it was wise, so I thought it would be appropriate to share some of the wisdom I have learned from him through the years. Some are a repeat of previous posts (because I had already been sharing his wisdom), and some are topics I haven’t shared before. My father went home to be with His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on Sunday, May 8, 2016. I grieve at the loss of my hero, mentor, and friend, but I rejoice at the celebration of his arrival in heaven.
This week, I am sharing an lesson that he taught me about humility.
One of my father’s many great attributes was the character trait of humility. As teenager and a young man, I was often in awe at his capability and competence in so many areas, and yet he was never arrogant or prideful, and would not boast about his own accomplishments or abilities. Seemingly in spite of his extroverted nature and his constant interaction with people, he never seemed to be drawing attention to his own successes, but rather, poured into others. Like many young people, I suppose, I wished that everyone else could see how great my father was, yet he never seemed to point out those things in himself.
I finally began to better understand this about him when I was a senior in high school, and was receiving a particular accolade. There was a brief mention of this accomplishment in the local newspaper, and the next time one of my aunts came to visit, she mentioned the article and said to me, in front of my dad, that she had had no idea of my level of accomplishment before. I remember my dad saying to me, “Jeff, if you’re good, you don’t have to tell people, they’ll tell you.” At first, on the surface, that seemed like a simple statement, but now I realize that my dad was trying to teach me two very important things:
- Humility is one of the most valuable character traits a person can have. No one likes pompous arrogance. It is unattractive to brag on yourself, and makes you look needy, selfish, and insecure. In fact, Jim Collins points out in his best selling book Good to Great that humility is one of the two primary attributes of a Level 5 Leader. So my dad taught me to see my skills and abilities as gifts from God to be used for the benefit of others, not for my own recognition.
- Your actions speak louder than your words. One of his other many sayings (one I’ve referenced in this blog before) was, “Your walk talks and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” He knew – and he taught me – that people would be far more affected by my actions than my words, and that it would be my actions that would make my words believable. So he taught me to let my actions speak for me.
Tom Nelson, in his book Work Matters, points out that “we are witnesses by our words, but we also witness by our work. The excellence of our work often gives us the credibility to speak of the excellence of our Lord Jesus and to share the good news of the gospel with our coworkers.” (p. 96) In saying this, he reminds us of this same truth, that people will judge us, and by extension will judge our God, by the quality and competence of the work we do. In turn, people will draw conclusions about us based on what they see. And that’s why Dr. Henry Cloud, in Necessary Endings, states that “the best predictor of the future is the past.” (p. 93) He points out that what we have seen people do and how we have seen them act in the past gives us the best picture of what they are likely to be like in the future.
For good or for ill, people will draw conclusions about us based on what they observe. Therefore, as leaders, as workers, as followers, as husbands and wives, as students and teachers, or in whatever role we find ourselves, we ought to do our best and we ought to do it well. But we shouldn’t need to point it out; rather, we need to model humility along the way. Your work and your actions should be such that people can see what you do, and see for themselves that you do it well, without you needing to arrogantly inflate yourself. When that happens, they will be much more likely to appreciate your gifts and accomplishments then to resent them. So I will say the same thing to you that my dad said to me: If you’re good, you don’t have to tell people, they’ll tell you.