How to Humble Someone on Your Team (and Yourself Too)

How does a leader help an arrogant team member learn humility? How can a leader help someone on the team walk in humility rather than pride? It is a common leadership question because the leader knows that others don’t enjoy working alongside arrogance and that pride and hubris corrode trust.

In his book, Leadership Strategy and Tactics, Jocko Willink — a Navy Seal for twenty years who is now a leadership consultant – answers the question with a practical tactic he has employed. When he saw someone on his team who was filled with arrogance, he would “put the leader in charge of a mission or project that was outside their level of competence.” According to Willink, one of two possibilities would occur. (1) The leader would quickly realize he was in over his head and would ask for help and insight from others, and thus learn some humility along the way. Or (2) the leader would, in continued pride, push through the situation without asking for help and would fail miserably – which hopefully would lead to humility rather than excuses. Either way the leader is given opportunities that can knock some of the pride out of the leader.

As I read Willink’s advice, I thought about leading others but I also thought about leading myself. I was reminded that we can grow in humility by being perpetually overwhelmed with the magnitude of the role in which God has placed us and by believing in a big mission that requires more than our level of experience and skill. Because in those seasons and moments I know that I need more than I bring to the table. I need His grace. I need others. I need help.

I thought about how God routinely surfaces pride in my own life and calls me to repent of it. And I know there is more pride that needs to be removed, even when I can’t see it. C.S. Lewis called pride the great sin, the sin that we more easily see in others but fail to see in ourselves. In His goodness to me, God has often given me more than I can handle so that I will rely more fully on Him. In His grace, God often nudges me to try things that are “beyond my scope of competence.” What Willink is suggesting is how God has treated me, and always for my good.

As a leader, if you never take on more than you can handle you are missing the opportunity for growth. Not only growth in your skills but also growth in humility. And if you don’t assign new responsibilities to those you lead, you are robbing them of opportunities for growth in both skills and humility.

Please note that Jocko Willink is suggesting to give someone responsibilities beyond their competence, NOT beyond their character. We should not seek roles, for ourselves or others, that are beyond our character. When our skills or our positions are bigger than our character, we are positioned for an internal implosion.

To grow in humility in your role as a leader, try new things, sign up for new projects, set a goal that is beyond your competence. An overwhelming challenge is a gift.