Proverbs 27:2 Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips.
Jim Collins, and his extensive research team, published the bestseller Good to Great, a study of how good companies make the leap to greatness. This is a must read for anyone intending to be a leader. It is a secular book, but as I read it, I was astounded to find that in every case where a company moved from good to great, the leaders (called Level 5 leaders) were not brash, cut throat tyrants, but instead they were humble people with a desire for the greater good of others. While they certainly were not all Christians, they were men and women with characteristics consistent with the teachings of Jesus and his followers.
One of the characteristics of these Level 5 leaders related to taking responsibility and giving credit. “Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck). At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.”[i] Interestingly, as Collins and his team researched the comparison companies, those which did not improve, their leaders behaved in exactly the opposite fashion. When things went well, they took all the credit, and when things went poorly they externalized by blaming others or just attributing it to bad luck.
I am usually cautious of speaking too highly or poorly of people whom I have not met, but there is a leader in sports who seems to receive pretty consistent praise. Former NFL coach and Super Bowl champion Tony Dungy seems to be one of those coaches who Jim Collins would have certainly identified as a Level 5 leader. Even when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, enshrined with some of the greatest coaches of all time, Dungy remained humble. “In typical Dungy fashion, he deflected praise from himself and toward numerous others. He thanked his father and mother, who taught him that honesty and integrity were more important than his job title.” [ii] Dungy continued his speech almost exclusively by thanking others and giving them credit for his success. In doing so, Dungy was, and is a light to the world.
The Apostle Paul said: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3). King Solomon said: Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2.) While it can sometimes be entertaining hearing the Mohammad Ali’s, Conor McGregor’s or LeBron James’ of the world declaring their greatness, I do not feel that this type of person can ever achieve Level 5 leadership. They may be able to do great things themselves, but they will have great difficulty being a leader or coach one day, and inspiring others to selfless, humble service.
Be an athlete who works diligently, respects and listens to coaching, and quietly goes about your business. And when you have success, be quick to acknowledge how you have been blessed with your abilities from God, and speak of the support you have received, whether that is family, coaches or friends. Let others speak well of you and think of your accomplishments with sober judgement. Remember that athletic success can be fleeting and can disappear more quickly than it arrives.
[i] Collins, Jim. Good to Great. Harpers Business. 2001.