‘Will you come down to London to see my art exhibition next week, uncle Nick?’ She looked at me expectantly. ‘I’m so sorry Dani, but I can’t. I’m helping lead a global leadership event all week.’ ‘But, uncle Nick, I’ve been working on this for ages, it’s the culmination of all I’ve been working on for my degree.’ ‘I would love to be there, Dani, but it’s really not possible. People are coming to this event from all over the world and I’m part of the team that’s leading it.’
Dani turned away with a look of disappointment in her eyes. I felt bad but what else could I do? Later that evening as I was leading, Dani tried one last time, ‘Please uncle Nick, come to my exhibition!’ I was about to repeat by previous reply when she spoke for me in an exaggerated posh voice and hurt, sarcastic tone, ‘Oh I forgot, you can’t come, you’re at a global leadership event.’ Ouch, slap. I felt confronted, chastised, embarrassed, humbled.
The following week, here was I surrounded by colleagues from 25 countries. We sat around the table and introduced ourselves. As people spoke in turn, I noticed what noble and impressive-sounding job titles we create for ourselves in organisations, the big words that convey importance and status as much as describing our roles. And I remembered Dani’s challenge and Paul’s words (from the Bible) rang out in my head, ‘don’t think of yourselves more highly than you ought’.
I’ve reflected on my identity and attitude since, how easy it is to inadvertently assume a sense of self-importance, an implicit arrogance, a self-inflated pride. I’m challenged by Jesus’ example, the one who demonstrated extraordinary humility, the divine leader who gave others dignity and revealed a servant heart. I need to guard against the seduction of status, the pull of power, the temptation to grasp for myself the honour that belongs to God.
Nick is a freelance coach, trainer and OD consultant specialising in reflective practice.