Baruch Spinoza, a 17th century Jewish/Dutch philosopher (1632-1677 A.D.), described pride as a form of madness: “Thus we see that it may readily happen, that a man may easily think too highly of himself, or a loved object, and, contrariwise, too meanly of a hated object. This feeling is called ‘pride,’ in reference to the man who thinks too highly of himself, and it is a species of madness.” The English author, C. S. Lewis (1898-1963 A.D.) described pride as the “complete anti-God state of mind…the great sin.”
The problem of pride in leadership is that it provides leaders with a completely false sense of themselves. They find their identity in their talents, expertise, accomplishments and possessions. The only cure for this kind of prevalent leadership madness is a clearer vision of God in which we find our own true self, created and sustained in Him.
The reformer John Calvin (1509-1564 A.D.) made this helpful observation: “…it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face… because all of us are inclined by nature to hypocrisy, a kind of empty image.” I am persuaded that authentic Christian leadership starts with the quest for a clearer vision of God in which the false images of pride are stripped away to provide, in the words of John Michael Talbot, “an empty canvas” ready to bear the image of our Lord.
But leaders sometimes locate their leadership orientation and behavior in hostile competition with others–the thinking goes something like this: that we construct our own credibility and leadership position by discrediting the person and character of others. In our increasing virtual world it has become so easy to cast doubt on others’ orthodoxy and credibility, all under the cloak of cyber, anonymous commentary. How do we change this obvious tendency to act in pride? I am increasingly convinced that authentic Christian leadership only makes sense in true community where we transform our “natural” hostility towards others into Gospel hospitality.
Maybe the first step in this process of transformation is to change our perception and understanding of community and thus leadership. No true transformation happens without a repentant surrender to the Cross of Jesus. This is where we find true community and truth. I am reminded of an old 17th Century Puritan prayer that says it best:
“Lord Jesus, it is my chief design to bring my heart back to You.
Convince me that I cannot be my own god, nor make myself happy,
nor my own Christ to restore my joy, nor my own Spirit to teach, guide, rule me.
Take away my roving eye, curious ear, greedy appetite, lustful heart.
Show me that none of these things can heal a wounded conscience,
or support a tottering frame, or uphold a departing spirit.
Then take me to the cross and leave me there.
May we move away from ego-affirming, competitive approaches in leadership to the Christian call to consider others “better than ourselves” (Philippians 2:1-4). For me, this also means accepting those who find themselves in this kind of competitive orientation towards us in true Christian hospitality and to act towards them always in love ensuring our hearts and actions are devoid of “selfish ambition or conceit.”