Today’s post is the featured article from the March 2011 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

john-newThere is no way to prepare for it. No pictures or descriptions do it justice. You simply have to experience it. That is what I told my son, Ryan, when we recently made our father/son trip out to Mesa, Arizona for Cubs Spring Training. I’m not talking about being a Cubs fan (although it may apply). I am talking about the one day we took a break from the ballpark and ventured up for Ryan’s first visit to the Grand Canyon. As we walked the newly constructed path, leading to our initial viewing point, I told him that when we got to the edge I would share with him why I loved the Grand Canyon for the exact same reason I loved the mountains and the ocean. Being a smart young man, or more likely in just knowing how my crazy mind works, he said “I think I already know …”

Because it’s so much bigger than you.

Exactly. He knew it. I was bummed I hadn’t waited to share my thought until we were toe tips to the edge … so we could feel it. Moments later we experienced it. It won’t let go of you. And there is a paradox tucked within the wonder of the insignificance it creates. While it nurtures the soul, it also screams one of the most subtle lessons of great leadership. It is the lesson of humility.

It is a lesson some leaders forget. For other leaders it is intentionally forgotten … seen as a weakness to be avoided at all cost. For many leaders, it is a trait simply dropped along the way while they were picking-up more responsibility and visibility.

For followers, it is a lifeline for connection.

Unchecked, the road to leadership can easily lead to a bigger image of self … rather than holding onto an image bigger than self. I would propose genuine humility is grounded in a deep sense of confidence. The lack of it is rooted in arrogance. The most practical definition I have heard of humility is “not thinking less of yourself … but rather thinking more of others.”

A few leaders strive “to arrive” and upon getting there build a wall of protection to guard their self-interests. They fight the temptation to succumb to their perceived “weakness” of humility. These leaders happen upon the C-level suites of organizations, but are just as likely to be found among department heads or group supervisors. It happens on community boards and among the pastor ranks of a church.

But, for most, the seductive rise above humility is not intentional. It is incremental.

Leaders who embrace a sense of humility and maintain it through their ascension, most likely have made it a priority. They have discovered their sense of success has transcended their own accomplishments and been replaced by the delight in helping others succeed.

While I am sure there are a number of strategic recipes for leaders desiring to cling-on to a genuine sense of humility … I would like to humbly suggest three!

First, always embrace and cherish a critical few people in your life who love you enough to tell you the truth … and you love them enough to accept the truth when you don’t want to hear what they are telling you. For years, I have maintained what I call my “life” board of directors. They have full authority to ground my hot-air balloon when it gets all puffed-up. It sure beats a crash landing.

Second, build-on your past … don’t just move-on. Last week, I had the privilege to speak with the faculty of Holy Rosary Grade School in Memphis. This wasn’t just any grade school. It was my own childhood grade school. It is one thing to remember your past. It is a whole different experience to literally walk the hallways of your past. Historical anchors, both places and relationships, have a way to nurture the virtue of humility. For most, the veneer wasn’t so polished back then. It was pretty transparent … well, at least until junior high! No wonder so few become prophets in their own hometown.

Third, if all else fails … take a trip to the slopes of the mountains or to the beaches of any ocean. Take an honest measurement. If your ego is bigger than the mountain or more vast than the ocean … know it is time to take a trip to the Grand Canyon!