The confidence to be humble | Lessons on ethical leadership

publication date: May 28, 2018
author/source: Kimberley MacKenzie

Twenty-four hours ago, Amazon finally delivered James Comey’s autobiography A Higher Loyalty to my doorstep. I bought the book after I saw Comey interviewed on The Late Show. Comey revealed that he was sharing his story to offer people like you and me a view of what Ethical Leadership looks like. I needed to learn more about the concept of Ethical Leadership.

Having Confidence to be Humble.

Peppered throughout Comey’s book he talks about having the confidence to be humble. He offers us examples of leaders he has come across who lead with humility. Leaders who are confident enough to know that asking questions and taking time to think is not a sign of weakness.

In the book, Comey outlines his vision for the FBI. He wanted the agency to serve as the government’s premier leadership factory. He would teach everyone that great leaders are:

1. People of integrity and decency

2. Confident enough to be humble

3. Both kind and tough

4. Transparent

5. Seek meaning in work

6. Know that what they say is important, and what they DO is far more important.

In addition, Comey had five expectations for every employee:

1. Find joy in their work

2. Treat all people with respect and dignity

3. Protect the institution’s reservoir of trust and credibility

4. Expect to work hard because you owe it to the taxpayer

5. Fight for balance in their lives

What does this idea of ethical leadership have to do with the charitable sector? Well…just…EVERYTHING!

In our sector we talk about the leadership gap, staff turnover and burn out. What would happen if more of us strive to be Ethical Leaders? I believe that if more of us pursued this style of leadership we could solve a lot of problems. What if we were intentional about:

  • Building up the people around us. Let’s enter every conversation from a position of service. Thinking or frankly saying out loud to colleague: “How can I make your job easier today? What can I do for you?
  • Be fiercely loyal to our donors and beneficiaries. As development professionals our truth must be serving the mission of our organization by advocating fiercely for donors. If Comey can do it for tax payers amidst an extraordinary and volatile election and not succumb to pressure to choose a side, surely we can do the same when confronted with challenges within our organizations. That is what being “donor centered” is all about!
  • Celebrate and actively support the success of others. It is hard to stick your neck out with a job application or a conference session submission and be passed by, only to watch your colleagues soar. When that happens give yourself a small private pity party, then check your ego and congratulate your colleagues on their win. Let’s embrace confidence combined with humility so that we can truly support the success of others.

The origins of the charitable sector are rooted in humility. It is time to bring that kind of selfless leadership style back into the sector.

Kimberley works with a variety of organizations to create the change needed to advance a culture of philanthropy and ultimately raise more money for their missions. She has served as Editor of Charity eNEWS, a member of the Advisory council for the Rogare Think Tank in Plymouth University and as Director of Education for the Planned Giving Council of Simcoe County. Contact her via @kimberleycanada, email her at

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