I encountered one of those moments of truth recently. My wife and I were attending our community Methodist church on a Sunday morning when one of the staff came to me to ask that I read the scripture for the day. I agreed to read Luke 14:1,7-14, which is "When Jesus noticed how the guests sought out the best seats at the table, he told them a parable. 'When someone invites you to a wedding celebration, don't take your seat in the place of honor. Someone more highly regarded than you could have been invited by your host. The host who invited both of you will come and say to you 'Give your seat to this person.' Embarrassed, you will take your seat in the last important place..."
Reflecting later on this verse and looking back at my experience in Qatar, I sent a message to a Muslim colleague whose opinion I value a great deal. I asked specifically if the Quran has a similar verse. He responded that the closest thing he could think of was "Do not strut about in the land for you can neither cleave the earth nor attain the height of the mountains."
Both of these references admonish us to exercise humility and my own view is that leadership is one of the areas in which we should most seek to demonstrate humility. The Biblical reference indicates that to be presumptuous in presenting oneself as more important than others risks embarrassment while the Quran advocates humility, “Do not strut…,” because we then can neither keep our feet on the ground nor transcend the confines of our earthly role if we do.
So, how do we exercise humility yet strive to make a difference through our leadership? It seems that experience as well as the best of what is being written about leadership these days recommends avoiding any appearance of superiority or unwillingness to hear other’s perspective – staying grounded in the reality of other’s and our own experience. In addition, it seems that striving to make a difference should not be done for its own sake but for the difference it makes in the world – to attain the height of the mountains.
There are also a few more words that close the Biblical text in Luke - "Then Jesus said to the person who had invited him, 'When you host a lunch or dinner, don't invite your friends, your brothers and sisters, your relatives or rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return and that will be your reward. Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. and you will be blessed because they can't repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are resurrected.'"
The combination of the Quran and Bible are again instructive. When we strive to make a difference through leadership, seeking to help our friends and family can be good but doing so results in immediate reward in kind and in the moment. By contrast, striving to make a difference for those who are most in need and cannot and never will repay will result in a reward of a different kind – not to be returned, perhaps invisible, but elevating both the other and ourselves to the height of mountains.