As a marketing recruiter, not a week goes by that I don't get a call from a VP of HR looking for a VP of Marketing who is a "servant leader."  Servant leadership seems to be all the rage these days.  Every company wants servant leaders, but few seem to know much about servant leadership.  They talk the talk, but walking the walk is much harder.  That's because....

Servant leadership is based on humility.

Most people, if they really knew anything about humility, wouldn't like it.  That's why so few people are humble.  Humility involves dying to oneself -- sacrificing oneself to a higher good or yielding to legitimate authority.  Quite often it means doing what you don't want to do.  Sometimes it means going down with the ship so that others may live.  And always, it means killing the egotistical, self-centered person inside all of us who wants to be comforted, petted and admired.

Humility is a Godly thing.

For authentic servant leaders, everyone has dignity.  Everyone is a child of God.  Everyone is the best in the world at something.  Everyone deserves respect.  Everyone deserves to be elevated.  Everyone deserves to be perfected, and servant leaders perfect those around them by investing in everyone and setting a benchmark example.  They walk the talk -- and inspire others to raise their game.  That's why they're so sought after.

But here's the paradox of humility:  If you think you have it, you don't.  Imagine someone bragging about how humble they are.  That's an oxymoron, isn't it?  You can never be too humble.

I'm not talking about the "awe-shucks" false modesty that most of us have.  I'm talking about putting others first always.  That is antithetical to our secular, me first, zero-sum, he who dies with the most toys wins society.  True humility is counter-cultural, which is why it's so rare.  In fact, if you want to be a truly counter-cultural rebel, then rebel against your own vanity.  Master yourself.

Now, I can't tell you how to gain humility.  Usually one has to fail (and fail spectacularly) before one discovers how much one needs others.  But barring that, here are some signs that you lack humility:

  • Thinking that what you do or say is better than what others do or say.

  • Always wanting to get your own way.

  • Arguing when you are not right (or when you are right, insisting stubbornly or with bad manners).

  • Giving your opinion without being asked for it (when charity does not demand you to do so).

  • Despising the point of view of others.

  • Not being aware that all of the gifts that you have are on loan from God.

  • Mentioning yourself as an example in conversation.

  • Speaking badly about yourself so that others may form a good opinion of you or contradict you.

  • Making excuses when rebuked.

  • Hiding your faults from others so that they may not lose a good opinion of you.

  • Being hurt that others are held in greater esteem than you.

  • Refusing to carry out menial tasks.

  • Being ashamed of not having certain possessions.

I could go on but I won't.  You get the idea.  Zig Zigler has long said that you can have anything you want in life as long as you make sure that others get what they want first.  That's a hard truth to recognize -- and an even harder truth to live.

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Harry Joiner is an executive recruiter specializing in integrated marketing and "new media." He has been featured in MarketingSherpa's Great Minds in Marketing series and received coverage in the Wall Street Journal's Career Journal Online. According to Viral Garden's weekly rankings, Harry's weblog is one of the top 25 marketing weblogs in the world.