5 Habits that Reveal You’re a Prideful Leader (And 5 Keys to Humility)

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Nobody likes a proud or arrogant leader.

But leaders end up there sometimes without even realizing it.

You set out for humility, but end up in a very different place.

How would you know if it’s happening to you?

Pride Kills

Leadership is a high stakes game. A lot is riding on it, and few things kill a leader’s effectiveness more easily than pride. A proud leader:

  • Turns people off
  • Destroys the dynamic of a team
  • Caps the potential of the organization
  • Is often blind to his (or her) weaknesses
  • Loses the potential to grow

And just as important: actually isn’t all that fun to be around. Think of your spouse, kids or friends.

Creature of Habit

For years I thought pride and humility were attitudes. Want to be less prideful? Just adopt a humble attitude. But I’m no longer sure that’s entirely true.

In fact, I now believe pride and humility are habits.

In the same way that physical health isn’t an attitude as much as it is a product of activity and sensible eating, humble people and arrogant people adopt habits that make them proud or humble.

Here’s how I think pride and humility in reality work:

  • If you want to be more humble, do what humble people do.
  • If you want to be more prideful, do what prideful people do.
Pride and humility are habits, not attitudes. Click To Tweet

5 Habits that Reveal You’ve Become a Prideful Leader

So what do proud leaders do? The opposite of a humble leader. Their habits are opposite.

This is a daily struggle for most leaders as it is for me. I want to adopt the stance of the humble but the gravitational pull is toward pride.

So in the interests of helping us lead from a place of humility, here are 5 habits that reveal that you’ve become a prideful leader:

1. You Feel Entitled

A proud leader feels they’ve earned their leadership. You’ve secretly come to believe that you’re the smartest people in the room. You’ve worked harder than everyone else. You wouldn’t say it out loud, but you sometimes think you deserve the corner office and the public accolades.

A humble leader doesn’t feel that way at all. They know others are smarter, and want them on their team. They realize that despite all the hard work they’ve put in, there are others who have worked just as hard or harder and haven’t seen the same results. They don’t feel entitled, they feel grateful.

If you want to lead with humility, never lose your gratitude.

Your gratitude as a leader will rub off on your team and everyone around you. Christian leaders especially should be the most amazed, most grateful and most thankful people around. All of this (salvation as well as leadership) comes to us far beyond our deserving.

If you want to lead with humility, never lose your gratitude. Click To Tweet

2. You Take the High Place

Proud leaders enjoy titles, corner offices, and the praise and perks that come with a position. In fact at this point you enjoy the reserved parking spaces as well as the recognition and any VIP status that comes your way.

The humble take the low place. 

They adopt a posture of being served rather than serving. They are happy to help out and anxious to share what they have as a result of their leadership with others. They shake off titles and don’t mind washing the dishes or sweeping the floor.  To wash the dishes or sweep the floor 4 hours a week is likely not the best use of a high capacity leader’s time, but an unwillingness to do it is a sign of pride. Nothing is ‘below you’ when you adopt a humble stance.

Similarly with perks. Having them makes life better and makes you more productive (like skipping lines at airports etc). But they are not a badge of honour and should be used as generously as possible in the wider goal of serving others.

The humble take the low place. Click To Tweet

3. You Close Your Notebook

The smell of death is in the air as soon as a leader thinks he or she has arrived. A sure sign of that is when you begin to believe you have ‘nothing’ to learn from certain people.

This happens in two primary ways.

You stop learning from people you think are ‘below you’—people who haven’t achieved as much or don’t have as much status as you. Basically, you’ve come to believe you’re better than they are and have concluded they have nothing to teach you.

Because you’re basically insecure (most proud people are), you’ve also stopped learning from people you’re envious of. These are people ‘above you’ who you think you should be more like, but your insecurity has stopped you from learning from them. You can’t learn from people you’re jealous of.

The humble keep their notebooks open, because they believe they can learn something from everyone. They are not too proud to learn from people starting out, and because they are secure in what God has given them, they’re never too envious to not learn from people ‘above’ them.

A great practice here is to actually carry a notebook: either a physical notebook or something like Evernote (which I use).  Take notes. From everyone. It will chip away at your pride.

The humble keep their notebooks open, because they believe they can learn something from everyone. Click To Tweet

4. You Like the Spotlight

Prideful leaders are incredibly reluctant to share the spotlight. After all, you’ve worked so hard and so long, why share this moment with anyone? So if you’re a proud leader, you want the stage as often as it’s available. You want to chair everything and are reluctant to let anyone truly lead or get credit.

But humble leaders willingly push others into the spotlight.

They share credit. They share the stage. They don’t have to lead everything. In fact, they intentionally develop others leaders and even replace themselves in many key roles because the mission is more important than they are.

A humble leader actually rejoices in the success of others. A proud leader resents the success of others.

If you want to overcome envy and insecurity, do what proud people fear doing: push others into the spotlight. It will break the stranglehold of envy in your life.

Humble leaders willingly push others into the spotlight. Click To Tweet

5. You Address Before You Confess

Proud leaders love to point out the flaws in others but rarely admit to their own flaws. Clearly it’s easy to address shortcomings wherever you see them, but address your own? Hey, that’s between me and God.

The humble are different. The humble confess their own sins before they address the sins of others. They remember that they became Christians because God is good, not because they are good. So they readily admit their shortcomings before they point out areas that need to be addressed in others.

Proud leaders in many cases have even stopped privately confessing their personal sin to God. After all, they’re pretty awesome.

Get in the habit of privately and publicly admitting your sins, and when you address the shortcomings of others, you will do it with remarkable humility and grace.

The humble confess their own sins before they address the sins of others. Click To Tweet

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.