A Leadership and Life Model Based on Humility


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.

And because both these presidents didn't have the strength of this brand of humility to actually be "bigger" by sharing political capital when they were "big" in the polls, they became smaller over time and were left with diminished stature and a dysfunctional system in Washington even more polarized than when they arrived.

A leadership model based in humility would have practiced a means of governing through some form of national unity on big values and issues. And this would have moved the country and our politics forward, and given each of them a lasting legacy we could all be proud of.

When President Obama was at his high point in the aftermath of his historic election in 2008, having defeated in resounding manner the Republicans, instead of bringing the opposition in and sharing power, he said, "I won" in response to entreaties on compromise. And each step forward from then on, many times in an arrogant fashion, the administration sought victories over a weakened and floundering political enemy. This isn't the path of humility, and it definitely isn't the way of uniting us all in common purpose.

My hope as we examine the emerging candidates for president in 2016, that we will look for this type of humility in our nominees of either party. When they are reaching highs in polls, they put a hand out to their opponents for dialogue and discussion. That when they are strong politically, they go about lifting up the weak and beaten down. And if a leader can stand up at the height of popularity, and reach across the aisle, then we will begin to believe that dysfunctional divisive fever in Washington, D.C. can break.

And at the point we will all see the bright horizon ahead for America. And each of us could then go out into the world engaging each other from a place of abundance rather than scarcity.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent.

Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.