Meekness isn’t weakness

Beth (Joe’s manager):  “Joe, as part of your annual performance evaluation we list out some of the qualities we are seeking in those we promote into our leadership development program.  At the top of the list is meekness.  We believe this to be the foundation of a strong leader.”

Joe:  “Beth, I believe meekness is actually my greatest strength and I routinely exhibit this quality.  I think you would find this out for yourself if you asked anyone around the office.”

Beth: “We could not agree more Joe!  We have done a survey and everyone in the office is in agreement that there is not a more meek individual on the team.  With this in mind, we will be moving you onto the fast track for a leadership position.”

Joe: “Thank you so much!”

As you can probably surmise, this is pure fiction and has never happened in any business at any time…ever.  My question is, “Why not?”  In my opinion, the main reason for our societal aversion to being labeled “meek” is because some antonyms  of meek are words like bold, brave, and excited.  Those sound like adjectives we could all embrace but what about others on the list like impertinent, immodest, disobedient, and troubled.  I actually believe the most folks would prefer any of those to “meek” and that could be the root of much of the troubling behavior we see in our society.

I think the challenge is that we tend to assume that anyone who is not a hard charging, boisterous, and risk-taking individual is not leadership material.  I did some quick research and found the following three articles that outline leadership qualities from Entrepreneur, Forbes, and Inc. and while they don’t mention “meekness” overtly, there would be nothing stopping someone who is meek from possessing the other qualities listed.  I am also reading Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday and in one of the first chapters, he uses the story of William Tecumseh Sherman and how he eschewed the spotlight and deferred to others of lower rank at times. This is an example of someone who lived out the maxim that “meekness is absolute power under tremendous control”.


Perhaps we might re-think meekness in context of the type of leadership that would benefit both our businesses and society as a whole.  Might it be time to reconsider our assumptions about leadership and work to create a new narrative that touts those who put others ahead of themselves and genuinely act in deference to the greater good? I think we would want more leaders like Lars Sorenson, CEO of Novo Nordisk instead of the likes of  John Stumpf of Wells Fargo.

So here is my list of required leadership characteristics:

  • Humility
  • Self-Control
  • Empathy
  • Intestinal Fortitude
  • Kindness
  • Intelligence
  • Self-awareness
  • Confidence
  • Meekness

What’s your list look like?



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Filed under Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

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