Well, I’m only human!

“Well, I’m only human!” No truer words have ever been used to cover more harm. “I’m only human” is meant to convey the idea that, given our human nature, “We have limits” or “We can’t do everything” or “We can’t be perfect.” Fair enough. But too often today those words are meant to cover almost every wrong or explain away all patterns of poor behavior.

Here is the deal: of course we are only human. That is not saying much. There’s more: our nature can grow, deepen, and be transformed. This transformation is what servant leaders pursue as a first-order issue. In this chapter I want to help you think more deeply about it.

I have coached young leaders during most of my career. I’ve seen those who can’t help but cut people off when they feel threatened, and others who accuse people without knowing all the facts. I’ve known men who habitually threaten others rather than reason with them. I’ve worked with women who tell lies to avoid confrontation. Yes, we are only human, but these are not the only human options available to us. Transformation is both possible and needed.

Servant leadership literature assumes that specific characteristics are needed to be a servant leader. These include listening, empathy, healing, awareness persuasion, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community. But what do we do if our default positions are the opposite: being talkative, self-centered, hurtful, inward, argumentative, and wasteful? Maybe we worry that the success of others harms us. What if, despite our stated values and best efforts, we are still the kinds of leaders who impede community? Humility is a core trait for servant leadership. How do we become humble? Why would someone attempt it? What would cause as responsible leader to pursue an unpretentious manner? (Our Character At Work, pp. 93-94, Todd Hunter)