For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
I remember getting a call from John, a person I have been helping navigate a transition into a much higher position with his company. He told me the president of his company had invited him to dinner, along with other senior members of the company. Not only that but he was told he was in line for a promotion very soon—pretty heady stuff for a young executive who had only been with the company for a year.
His question to me was, how do I approach the dinner? I immediately replied, stay humble and focused on doing a good job. However, he was immediately put off guard. It seemed to him, my comment didn’t match the question. He was right. My statement didn’t directly address the question of how exactly to behave at the dinner. Instead, my reply was more directed at how he was to act in all aspects of his interactions, both at the dinner and in the office.
It wasn’t that I was trying to be evasive. Rather, I know from the experience in my career and from watching others, in this moment, he had hit a critical crossroad in his career. Getting invited to a dinner with the president of your company and being told you are getting promoted is a huge step. This is one of those milestone moments in any person’s career.
I had come to know John well. And it didn’t surprise me he was being recognized as a solid employee. He is an enthusiastic and very positive person. Always willing to help others and committed to doing the best he can on any project. I am also sure his company had learned they could trust him on any assignment. The president had heard this opinion from the other senior members of the company. So the president wanted to get to know him a lot better. Hence the invite to dinner.
In the past, I have seen people take one of two courses when they hit this milestone. The first and most dangerous is to become pride-filled. They tend to overstate their accomplishments and boast about their successes. Often time adding in a few exaggerated achievements. As a result, they become proud of themselves and not as proud of the people they work alongside. The reality is most accomplished senior executives, like presidents, will see right through this behavior. But, unfortunately, this behavior becomes a career-ender for these people.
The second and most desirable course is to stay humble. Not overstate what you have accomplished and to be sure you recognize those who have had just as much success. People who remain humble see their peers as teammates and not as competition. Humble people listen to learn, and when they do talk, they stay positive. These are the people presidents want to promote.
It is not that I felt John would become prideful. Instead, I was simply throwing up a caution flag. A reminder to stay true to who he was and not overreach.
In Luke [14:11], Jesus says, For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. What is ironic about this statement, Jesus is giving this advice to people who have also been invited to a dinner-a wedding. Jesus had also been invited and noticed the people who thought of themselves first tried to get the best seats, and those who thought of others first took the lesser seats. A critical insight into each person’s true motives. As we know, Jesus prefers people to think of their neighbor first.
Presidents of organizations generally think the same way. They will always index to liking people who are team players. They know to build an organization around me first people is a dead-end street.
Now John is a team player, both in the office and outside. But these moments of recognition can also be moments of getting trapped. We can either exalt ourselves or stay humble and authentic. The lure of making sure the boss knows how good we are will almost always backfire. Genuinely thinking of others first is far more admirable and likable.
So, I wasn’t avoiding the question John asked. Instead, I was repeating advice from Jesus about how to act at dinner and in the office. Jesus knew about the trap of being too proud and gave us sage words of business and life advice. Another example of why Jesus is good for business and business people.