Unfettered by Humility


I was skipping around the blogosphere last night when I came across a startling article by an HR professional, entitled “Don’t Believe Your Own Press!” The blogger, China Gorman, has put her finger on one of the huge problems we face in today’s political arena:

“Not that I haven’t accomplished some pretty terrific things in my leadership career.  I have.  But.  I didn’t accomplish any of them in a vacuum.  I always had a team of exceptional colleagues who worked with me and alongside me to accomplish great things.  It’s called being a leader.  And I think that – especially today – successful leaders need equal doses of healthy egos and equally healthy humility.  The healthy ego part is the part that makes us think we can be leaders.  That we do know where to go and how to get there.  The healthy humility part is the part that makes us human; that makes us authentic; that enables us to engage our teams in the work and vision for the future.  And keeps us grounded in the knowledge that we’re not terribly unique and can be replaced at any time [emphasis mine]

“It seems to me that too many leaders… start to believe their own press and then start to believe that they’re so special/so effective/so beloved/so famous that the rules don’t apply to them.  Humility is subsumed by ego and the ability to lead evaporates. “

First off: “subsumed“? Wow! I’m not even going to try to top that one.

But mainly: she’s right. While she’s discussing the corporate world, it’s equally true — perhaps even more so — in the world of politics. Surely it takes a robust ego for anyone to think she’s got the stuff it takes to lead a  school committee or town, much less a state or even the entire nation: and not just lead it, but take it in the right direction, all the while avoiding the dizzying emoluments of the culture of greed, graft, bribery, quid-pro-quo, and you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.

Not only that, but you’ve got to have the apparently not-so-common sense to understand that, as China so eloquently put it, you’re “not terribly unique and can be replaced at any time.” And of course, that’s where the problems start. Most of our current crop of politicians walk right into the job trumpeting the healthy ego and fitness for leadership part, having convinced their constituents of this. And I’d be willing to bet that many if not most really do go into public service to do just that: serve the public. Sadly, once in office, most lose that sense of humility without which one is simply a hack, a liar, or a crook.

China ends her blog post with the question: “[W]hy do so many powerful and effective leaders start to believe their own press when the consequences are so clear? ”

I believe at least part of the reason is that in politics, as in business, the consequences aren’t really all that bad. Our culture has lost its sense of shame, so that yesterday’s disgraced leaders are magically transformed into today’s elder statesmen. There are very few people like China, who can achieve success in leadership and still remain grounded in reality. And in this day and age, that is truly a gift.


(Full disclosure: I’m proud to say that China Gorman is my sister.)

One Response to Unfettered by Humility

  1. Josie says:

    Hi! 1st of all: “dizzying emoluments” is easily equal to “subsumed!”
    2nd: Your bringing in the loss of the sense of shame is right on the button. It’s gone – politicians don’t get embarrassed or seem to feel shame at all. They just barrel right on!
    3rd: I’m quite pleased to admit that both these bloggers are my daughters!! 🙂

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