Ascend by First Descending


 “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending.
You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”

—St. Augustine

Humility is a highly underestimated quality of a leader. One definition is: a disposition to be humble; a lack of false pride.

Leadership is far more than knowing a skill or understanding a process and cannot be sustained by position alone. In order for us to succeed as leaders we must continue to learn and grow. But growth and learning require a healthy level of humility. Let’s look at it in the context of the quote by St. Augustine. When we think of any of the major structures that have been built all over the world we will find that the most important part of the structure is the foundation. No matter how much time or energy we put into what is above the surface for all to see, if the foundation isn’t solid the structure won’t survive the difficult times. Storms, winds, rains, and earthquakes will bring it crumbling down if the foundation isn’t sufficient in size and strength. So, what are the foundational elements to leadership? Many will say it is honesty and integrity. Many will say it is skill and competency. Still others will say drive and determination, or perhaps many other attributes. All of those answers would be in part correct. Let’s consider those attributes as the various sizes of rocks and sand that goes into the concrete. I would have to say that honesty and integrity would be the steel reinforcement that the concrete mix envelopes as it is poured into the mold. So where does humility come in? I argue that it is the mortar that keeps it all together and doesn’t let go. It permeates throughout the foundation and allows us to continue to learn and grow so that we continue to be effective and relevant.


  • Allows us to recognize that we are not perfect and have room to learn and grow
  • Allows us to see that we can continually improve our skills and abilities
  • Helps us acknowledge that drive and determination must come from within but even that requires an outside influence or catalyst
  • Requires courage to know that you don’t have to be always be right and confidence to embrace who is

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