JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
There are many callings in this life, but none so precious as the honor of leading and serving others, whether it is in our Air Force, in our communities, or in our families. There are many facets of leadership through service, but one core trait stands out as pivotal – humility. In this month of President’s Day and in a year of an inauguration, there is a great lesson to be learned from America’s first inauguration that sends a timeless message to us all.
On April 16, 1789, George Washington left the comforts of Mount Vernon to make the trek to our new nation’s capital in New York City. In his journal on that day he wrote:
"About 10 o'clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity, and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York in company with Mr. Thompson, and Colonel Humphries, with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations." He was mindful of his limitations while appreciating the burdens of such a responsibility.
In the first line of his inauguration speech two weeks later, President Washington stated the following as he trembled in the Senate Chambers of Federal Hall: “Among the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the fourteenth day of the present month.” He went on to admit that he was “peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies.”
These words and others demonstrate a man filled with humility as he accepted the mantle of responsibility that came with his new office. This battle-hardened veteran realized that leadership was a weighty burden that no single person could shoulder alone. He entered this leadership position with the spirit of humble service and with a modest view of his own importance.
Humility prompts leaders to question their assumptions. It urges leaders to seek outside opinions and lean on wise counsel. It causes leaders to look outward and upward instead of inward. It fosters a reliance on others instead of oneself. It nudges a leader to prioritize relationships. It inspires the elevation of an organization’s needs over personal needs. It motivates leaders with the thought that a single leadership shortcoming can cause an organization to stumble.
Humility prevents complacency and stirs up passions that abhor stagnation. It suppresses self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency. It halts power-hungry careerism and cronyism. It clips the tendency to strive for personal gain.
In the end, humility carefully guides a leader and an organization towards an excellence that elevates everyone. May military leaders be wise enough to approach their responsibilities with humility. Regardless of our positions, we are to humbly render service to our country in obedience to our call.