Surrounded by Heroes

By J. William DeMarcoImage

Read a great article from Inc.com this AM on humility: Inspire People to Follow: Practice Humility by John Baldoni

…maybe I should be listening.  For me personally it is hard not to be humble when I see all the great people in the USAF, but many times our actions might not reflect our feelings.  I am truly humbled to serve with such great Americans.  I am humbled to be a part of the 100th with its incredible legacy, I am humbled to be a part of such a great family both my personal family and my USAF family…

Possibly a lack of humility comes from trying to impress others as we try to “influence’ them with our perceived greatness.  As we hosted the 100 BG vets I was honored to be surrounded by heroes, and listening to Erwin McManus the other day….he mentioned we all want to be heroes… I think that is true.

But in our search to be larger than life perhaps we forget that we are just humans…people with a million flaws.  People really can see us for who we really are–no matter how we try to hide it.  If anyone has read any of these blog entries… you know this is a big deal for me, I even preached on it a bit on leaving a legacy.

If our goal is to impress people…we can be pretentious…honestly people see right through that–no matter who you are.  Years ago I was heavily involved in martial arts… I had an instructor, Master Cho, who was fond of saying, “There is always somebody bigger, badder, and better…” That is really true … and it applies to all walks of life…
So if we want to influence (as mentioned yesterday), don’t try to impress them.  Pride is really nothing more than a form of selfishness, and pretense is only a way to keep people at arm’s length so that they can’t see who you really are.  Instead of impressing others, let them impress you.
Maybe it is just a matter of attitude, but I am so fortunate to work with people that impress me everyday… as a commander I need to focus on them not on myself.  Of course there are many things I need to work on, but I love the fact that I am surrounded by heroes everyday… it just does not get much better than that.
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6 thoughts on “Surrounded by Heroes

  1. This I think can become a very deep and interesting conversation.

    My simple response: do we not want a hero to idolize?

    • Brian: Idolize might be a bit bold, but it would seem it is human nature to look for something or someone to guide us to a higher level? A mentor, a guide… not sure I look at it as an idol. What do you think?

      • Sorry for the long delay in answering.

        I think there is an interesting relation in what we want to be and what we want to see. Do we want to see what we want to be, or do we want to be what we want to see? [I’m not pretending to know the answer] But in as much as we each want to be heroes, we want a hero to worship. We want someone who elicits our complete trust- someone who we can follow blindly without turning on our brain. This isn’t so much a mentor as a shining beacon providing direction.

        Many use religion as this beacon (Jesus, Mohammed, etc.) but it also seems that there are a wealth of people who have lead by fostering this image of invincibility. Robert E Lee ordered Pickett’s charge to preserve this image. Patton, Hitler, and Napoleon all had fanatical devotees and moved populations to their support.

        Sometimes humility can be a tool to achieve this cult following, but sometimes it can be a hindrance. Regardless, I think that if we’re talking about leadership in its purest sense- that is, the art/science of getting people to follow you, a cult of personality can be an effective manner to influence. But I think there is an unspoken assumption here that this is not necessarily desirable.

        I think though that when talking about leadership, we need to be careful in separating traits that we endorse because they are morally compatible with our perspectives and traits that we endorse because they are effective. Humility is certainly a tool in the ‘leadership toolbox’, but history has shown that it is by no means necessary to become an effective leader.

        While this response might not be as coherent as I had hoped, I think it is important to recognize that:

        1) We want to follow heroes as much as we want to be one
        2) Heroes are not necessarily humble
        3) We should be careful to conflate what is morally desirable with what is functionally effective

        I personally believe that humility is a virtue, and that with every virtue it carries its own sets of strengths and limitations. It is certainly possible to be a humble leader, but the argument in the article implies that it is near necessity. I think a better discussion would be with the scenarios that humility is the most effective and how it shapes other facets of one’s leadership philosophy.

        It’s late… I hope this makes sense.

      • Whoa… great thoughts here Brian. I think I agree with everything you have said..but this is one that I honestly will have to ponder for a bit. I think there is this natural tension between humility and being a hero… how do you play that tension? I think with the strongest heroes default more toward humility. Good stuff… thank you…much to ponder here.

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