I have often thought that the way we enter into the world and lead in all the parts of our life either comes from a place of abundance and surplus within ourselves, or it comes from a place of lack or scarcity. Do we share generously what we have, or do we grasp for things because within us we lack?
Do we enter relationships trying to make ourselves whole because we don't feel enough, or do we come to a relationship from a place of self-satisfaction and being enough already? Do we give away from the surplus we have and don't feel the need to win, or relate to others from a place of the fear of losing so that we seek victories along the roads of our life? It is from the place of abundance that we can truly be at peace and humble and lead.
In his second Inaugural Address, on the verge of winning the Civil War, and being an immensely popular national leader, Abraham Lincoln began to lay out his compassionate vision of how the South should be treated with the words, "With malice toward none, with charity for all."
As Nelson Mandela emerged from spending nearly his entire adult life in prison, the end of apartheid at hand, and his prominence as a meteoric popular leader in South Africa, his main message was of reconciliation rather than revenge. These to me are the actions and words of humility in true leaders.
In a recent column, I wrote of the need of a sense of humbleness or humility in future national leaders. Oftentimes humility is confused as a character trait that represents weakness, when in fact it is one of the clearest signs of strength in an individual. And the demonstration of humility is best practiced when a leader is at a high point or with great abundance, rather than at a low point or in a position of scarcity. Let me explain.
At President Obama's news conference last week, he expressed that mistakes were made, that he was taking responsibility, and that he knew his administration had messed up in regards to the unfolding of the Affordable Care Act. While I could argue that the timing of this could have been much sooner and more forceful, it is good to see a president admit errors. But this kind of humility when you are down, when you are searching for a way to get back on top, to regain your popularity, does not carry near the weight if he had been more magnanimous and humble when he was on top.
The greatest power of humility in bringing positive change to our world exists when a leader brings opponents in when he is strong, gives power away when he has plenty, and lifts up the enemy with a strong and compassionate hand. The true measure of humility is the exercise of it when a leader has won, is strong and on top, not when they have lost are weak and down. President Obama (and President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11) each had an opportunity to practice this type of humility while they were in an abundance of power, and both chose a more divisive path where friends were rewarded and political enemies punished.