I look around the world today and I see a tenet that increasingly is being shoved aside like the Ugly Duckling shunned and ignored. This principle that I want to talk about is a key aspect of helping us to do the right thing even when we aren't being watched. It appears that this trait has and is going out of fashion in favour of its antithesis - pride.
I am referring to good old-fashioned humility and the act of being humble.
Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines humble as "not proud or haughty", nor "arrogant or assertive". Furthermore, the definition goes onto state "reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission."
In the world of business, politics and media leaders do nothing but want to beat their own drums. Take the US political landscape, the incumbent president is all about braggadocio and self-promotion with the excessive use of the pronoun "I" and referring to himself in the third person - a sign of an inflated ego and narcissism. Trump brags about how he took a $1 million inheritance and turned it into $1 Billion. During the Tony Blair years in the UK, it was all about Cool Brittania and using spin doctors to gloss over everything from the WMD debacle and deterioration of core services for the public.
The business landscape is no better. Media idolises the CEO who announces phenomenal quarter on quarter results. CEOs are the new rock stars and can do no wrong. Yet leading up to the 2008 financial meltdown, John Thain of Merril Lynch spent $1.2 million redesigning his office. Jeffrey Skilling of Enron who was described by the media as "hyper-smart" and "hyper-confident" destroyed the company he headed.
With business leaders, there is - apart from the Wall Street driven quarterly metrics - a frenzied desire to be on the cover of Fortune, Forbes and Business Week among others. The lust for fame is insatiable. This is further exacerbated by social media, where a Tweet, a post or a like is more valued than customer service, product quality or the welfare of their employees.
Watching CNN or any of the other news channels, the so-called experts or leaders in their field do nothing but shout to be loudest, to be the crassest and insulting, just so that they can be invited back onto a show.
Regardless of what field a person specialises in people listen, look up to and value a notable individuals words and deeds. Even in sports, stars are lionised yet stories of criminality, drug use and other vices seem to follow hot on their heels. Movie stars are envied by millions until they end up in a rehab clinic, divorced or behind bars.
Humility seems to have fallen out of favour with leaders in all areas, leaders who people love, admire and emulate. Humility seems like a dirty word, a word that is taken to be a sign of weakness. It is seen as something from a bygone era, or a charitable trait consigned to people of the cloth. Yet, humility is a sign of strength, it is one of the few indicators of strength of character in a person and more so in a leader. Someone who eschews humility is only trying to hide their weaknesses, insecurity and inability to admit to and deal with mistakes.
We are people watchers and in my life as a consultant understanding people is crucial. When I was studying for my MBA I watched how in the class of about 30 students - who were primarily middle managers, a few consultants and business owners, everyone wanted to be right, to be superhuman, the one who stood out. Understandably so, as most of the students' were being paid for by their employers to study. They wanted to express their identity and climb the corporate ladder with MBAs under their belt.
There was one particular student a Romanian chap, who was self-funding, and English wasn't his first language was considered the Ugly Duckling. He was in my tutorial group of six people and the rest of the group would shun or ignore his soft-spoken opinions. I took him under my wing and ensured he got the most out of the group activities and tasks.
The US Marine Corps instils a servant-leadership model whereby the officers are there to serve a mission first, their teams second and lastly themselves. The key aspect of this model is to take care of the welfare of others before your own needs. During the second Iraq war in 2004 when the US military had entered and taken occupation of Saddam's presidential palace in Baghdad, camps and sleeping quarters were not set up. Night time temperatures reached 100F and the only place that had air-conditioning was the palace. The officers let the soldiers sleep in the palace whilst they stayed in tents outside in the palace grounds.
Humility is not thinking less of ourselves nor shying away from our skills and talents. It's not about self-flagellation and nit-picking every wrong action or word we utter. I guess this is how the view of humility as a sign of weakness arises. Humility is to have an honest view of yourself, your strengths, weaknesses, taking into account the good, the bad and the ugly. Yes, it is about self-knowledge but more so it is about our relationships with our teams at work, our family, our community. As a leader, you are the last one to drink a sip of water or eat a morsel of food when the going gets tough. As a leader it is not about the title of President, as Abraham Lincoln found out, he was humble enough to hire his more learned and experienced political opponents into his cabinet. Furthermore, he would admit his lack of knowledge to them, so much so that they became his strongest allies and supporters.
Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and Oliver Cromwell came from total obscurity and extremely humble backgrounds to lead people through some of the most troubled times in their eras.
One of the most humble leaders in recent years has been Uruguay's president Jose Mujica. When elected to his position in 2009 he donated 90% of his salary and decided against living in the presidential palace, choosing instead his farmhouse. His only asset if it could be called that was a 1987 VW Beetle.
Today I look around and all I see is the inflated egotistical politicians, CEOs and other luminaries paraded on our screens and scrolling on the 24/7 social media.
The world is crying out for a new Mohandas K. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Mother Theresa. Yet, Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace prize for her humility and endurance under the Burmese military junta, remains silent as the Rohingya's in her own country are persecuted and ethnically cleansed.
I believe there comes a turning point in every age and this century is no different, I see it in France with the election of Macron as the president. Justin Trudeau of Canada is another politician and a sign of the shifting winds of humanity. In the corporate world, I see Jeff Bezos as a CEO who is different and cut from a different mould, and Warren Buffet has been one of my favourite persons in the world of business.
Individually, we as parents, teachers and guardians of the tomorrow's future have a duty to influence and guide the youth of today.