Humility – Manage Like a Mother

posted by WMC

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was an immigrant.  Her followers take vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience and to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor”.

Born in Kosovo she moved to India where her life was spent managing homes for people dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; soup kitchens; mobile clinics; orphanages and schools.

Mother Teresa embodied humility and servant leadership….do you?


As a leader it can be very hard to be humble.  You are proud of what you have accomplished through hard work and dedication.  You have been recognized for your many talents.  In fact, what you do and say can dramatically influence the careers and lives of those around you.

Without humility, you will quickly disconnect from your team, your customers, your peers.  You will lose touch with the reality of the environment which is shaping your business.  Without humility, it becomes all about YOU, YOU think you know better, YOU become a ‘know-it-all’.

In “Good to Great”, Jim Collins tells us that to take a company to greatness you need a “Level 5” leader, an executive in whom

“…extreme personal humility blends paradoxically with intense professional will.” – Jim Collins


In my previous posts Integrity, Planning, and Empowerment, I say that many of our Mothers are accessible and powerful role models in leadership. These stories from our person-on-the street interviews and preliminary survey results make that point.

Can you think of a better example than the strong and self-less way Mothers support their children, their family and their communities?  Mothers don’t say “Look at how amazing I am!” they are more apt to say “Look how amazing my child is!”

Doug, 61- Service based leadership

It’s been 40 years since Doug left home but he still vividly remembers his mother leading by example. She was a teacher and lived by doing whatever it takes to make things happen. Her work in the community reflected that. He still recalls the death of every friend and neighbor and how his mom was always the first person at their doorstep. She played the organ at every funeral service and organized the community to be able to come together and mourn their loss.  No task was beneath her if it helped others.

With power comes responsibility!


Simon Sinek’s book “Leaders Eat Last” is based on the Marine Corps’ expectations that leaders to eat last.

Why?  To them this is a visible symbol of the true price of leadership, the willingness to place the needs of others above your own.

He tells of the “eureka” moment of a very successful CEO who comes to the realization that

Every single employee is someone’s son or someone’s daughter.  Like a parent, a leader of a company is responsible for their precious lives. – Simon Sinek


You may not entirely agree with this socialistic view but it drives home the point that you have a responsibility to be the best you can be and to help others be their best as well.

This requires sharing your failures as well as your successes.  It means being self-aware and vulnerable enough to let people know

We are a work-in-progress, NOT finished masterpieces.


Joy, 62 – Share your failures

Joy’s focus on personal growth and improvement was learned from her mother. In fact, her mom consistently reminded her four kids that you can teach as many important lessons to others through your mistakes and failures as you can through your successes. Now a grandmother herself, she lives by her mother’s word by showing both her vulnerabilities and successes to help shape and mirror the lives around her.

Leading with humility also means sharing the credit.

On January 15, 2009, US Airways 1549 captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger a struck a flock of Canada geese and lost all engine power. Unable to reach any airport, he and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles glided the plane to a ditching in the Hudson River saving all 155 people aboard.

During the investigation, after being challenged and second-guessed, investigator Elizabeth Davis finally gives them credit – calling Sully the X-factor that made it work: “Captain Sullenberger, removing you from the equation the math just fails.”  Sully’s reply after all they had been through was the definition of humility.

“I disagree. It wasn’t just me, it was all of us. Jeff, Donna, Sheila and Doreen… passengers, rescue workers… traffic control, helicopter crews and scuba Cops. We all did it! We survived.” – Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger


To show humility we should keep these in mind:

  1. Ambition for the Cause – not the self. Channel ambition and ego from the self to others, the cause and company
  2. Service Mindset – Support others and place their needs ahead of yours
  3. Share the Credit – when things go well share the credit
  4. Shoulder the Blame – when things go poorly, be accountable and accept the blame
  5. Be Vulnerable – be open and candid and share your successes and failures


Challenge your thinking with these questions:

  1. Am I taking my responsibility to my people seriously?
  2. Do I actively seek input or merely tolerate it or use it as a smoke screen?
  3. How is my pride getting in the way of being the best leader I can be?

Please complete our anonymous survey so we can use your stories in our upcoming posts.

Will you Manage Like a Mother today?

The opinions represented here do not necessarily represent WMC’s views as a whole.