Comedian Groucho Marx once claimed that he had a nurse who was so arrogant about her beauty that when she took a man’s pulse she always subtracted ten points to compensate for what her looks did to his heartbeat. Humility does seem to be elusive to many people but the truth is that humility is a leading quality of truly great people.
I have heard that the best way to enjoy a trip is to utilize the” peak-end rule” which suggests that you plan a trip to include a peak moment during the trip and then end it with a bang thus providing two memorable events during the excursion. Barb, myself, and our friends / family Mike and Kim Sawyer, headed for Washington, DC to share in the retirement celebration of 26 years in the Air Force, with our good friend Glenn Dumont. We were blessed with not only a peak and an end but a wonderful beginning as well- providing a trifecta of examples of the amazing quality of humility.
Our memorable beginning was a day of visiting the National monuments in DC- where it is hard not to be in awe as you reflect on the surrounding memorials of people and events that chronicle the history of the United States of America. Particularly inspiring is the Lincoln Monument and the story behind the story. Can there be a greater example of humility and the effective leadership that it so often produces than that of the story of Abraham Lincoln?
Steven Spielberg in his acclaimed movie “Lincoln”, paints a wonderful picture of Lincoln’s leadership and the events leading to the passing of the 13th amendment but he leaves out much of Lincoln’s humble nature and how it leads to building a remarkable cabinet of leaders. In fact, the typical person would have considered those he chose as adversaries and would have allowed pride to prevent them from making the best appointments.
Edward Stanton who was chosen by Lincoln for the powerful appointment as Secretary of War had earlier in his career tried to dismiss Lincoln from a joint case that they were both hired to prosecute stating, “What’s he doing here? Get rid of him. I will not be associated with such a gawky ape as that! If I can’t have a man who is a gentleman in appearance associated with me in the case I will abandon it.”
Edward Bates, selected by Lincoln to serve as Lincoln’s Attorney General, William Seward as Secretary of State, and Salmon Chase as Secretary of Treasury all held Lincoln in low regard feeling that he was incompetent in the various positions that he sought during his political career and all vocalized their lack of faith in his ability in an often hurtful, insulting, and demeaning manner.
Lincoln, however, was a determined man who knew what he wanted to accomplish and in watching his rivals observed what improvements he must make. After Lincoln listened to Stanton’s final argument in the early court case he responded, “I have never heard anything so finished and so carefully prepared. I can’t hold a candle to any of them. I can’t talk like them, or look like them!”
But as Stephen Covey, offers in Everyday Greatness, “While many would have been totally offended, Abraham Lincoln had the humility to acknowledge his weaknesses and the fortitude to overcome them.” Mitchell Wilson shares in Abe Lincoln’s First Big Fee, “Lincoln could not remove the hurt – the memory of it would remain with him forever – but he could change himself so that he would never be hurt again for the same reason. His manner became more dignified, his speeches more polished, more profound.”
And when it came time to assemble the cabinet that would arguably have the greatest impact on our country since its founding, Abe Lincoln never forgot the distinction of the rivals of brutal words and the rivals of brilliant minds and humbly promoted them to positions of great prominence within his cabinet–positions that helped lead to the passing of the 13th amendment. And with them all standing at his deathbed, Lincoln’s once biggest adversary who had hurt him so grievously gave him the now famous immortal tribute: “Now he belongs to the ages.”
The end of our trip was a morning at the Arlington National Cemetery before our flight back home. I expected the walk through the cemetery to be incredible but it was even more than that – it was a perfect ending to a wonderful trip and a story for a different day. I will only say it is indeed an emotional walk through an area that is filled with story after story of mighty men and women who humbly gave their lives to serve others. Bertrand Russell states in A Philosophy for You in These Times “It may seem to you conceited to suppose that you can do anything important toward improving the lot of mankind. But this is a fallacy. You must believe that you can help bring about a better world. A good society is produced only by good individuals.”
The peak of our journey to D.C. was the retirement celebration of our long time friend of 30+ years, which stems back to our baseball days at the University of Southern Maine. Glenn joined the Air Force shortly after college and made a career of it. Though Glenn, Krista and the girls would journey home each summer for a couple of weeks and provide us a chance to catch up on family, recreation, and a little bit of career talk, Glenn was never one to speak too much about what he was accomplishing.
So when we were ushered into the Pentagon and entered an expansive department that had Glenn’s name plate as one of only two names listed on the department’s entry wall it became a little clearer the importance of his role within the Air Force.
We were directed to the conference room, where we sat with Glenn’s family and waited the entry of Major General Wendy Masiello, Glenn’s boss and the other name on the door, who was to share a little time with us prior to the retirement ceremony. Elizabeth Goudge, shares, “Truly great men and women are never terrifying. Their humility puts you at ease.” When the General entered her smile lit up the room and her demeanor- while commanding- put everyone at ease. In an instant her leadership, confidence, sincerity, and interest in others was apparent. For the next 30 minutes we spoke of Glenn from his childhood days through stories of time in the Air Force then were directed to the retirement ceremonies in the Hall of Heroes.
With over 325,000 active personnel in the Air Force it would be safe to assume that on any given day several prominent people would be retiring and sharing in such a ceremony. We entered the hall filled with people, many impressively dressed military members, whom I assumed may also be retiring but it soon became apparent that the day was all about Glenn and his accomplishments. Major General Masiello spoke at length of the amazing person that Glenn was, of his leadership, his accomplishments, his values, and the hole that his retirement was creating.
Glenn, our long time friend, one of our best friends, so low key when he came home year after year, so humble in his accomplishments – all so much the norm in great people. Mary W. Waldrip shared, “When someone sings his own praises, he always gets the tune too high.” Glenn never had to worry about that – over the years he never whispered and never sang – we knew little of his accomplishments which listing in full would make this article too long. Just to name a few, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon.
“One of Glenn’s signficant acknowledgments was being awarded the Legion of Merit, and in typical Glenn fashion, he just felt he was doing his job. When he was presented with the Bronze Star he requested that it just been done at the weekly Commander’s Call with his own squadron-instead of at a ceremony involving most of the base which is how it is usually done-with much fanfare, hoopla and family involvement. Glenn has never described himself as a hero, to me he has never been anything else.” – Krista Dumont
But what was most striking as various people made their remarks was the leader that Glenn had become in both his personal life and in leading others. He was acknowledged as a distinguished graduate of several Air Force school/academies including graduating top in the Air Force Leadership School, which all seem to have forged the person he has become. The General shared the amazing person that Glenn was, his impressive accomplishments and the demands that he put on himself that allowed him to carry it all out. In the military which is known for tough firewall performance reviews, Glenn received 25 perfect reviews in 26 years – nearly unheard of. The General revealed that Glenn’s very first performance review documented his leadership qualities, passion, humility, and desire for perfection all of which lead to him becoming a Senior Airman before any of his peers. Others spoke of the amazing relationships that Glenn was able to forge which provided him the ability to carry out his responsibilities.
Glenn spoke at end the ceremony – articulately, with passion and charisma he shared his thoughts on family, friends, relationships, and leadership. In the spirit of Albert Einstein who shared, “A hundred times a day, I remind myself that my inner and outer life depends on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am receiving,” he spoke of those he was blessed to serve with and acknowledged that he could have accomplished little without the help of those around him.
That’s modesty and leadership at its best, acknowledging that all that is accomplished can be attributed to help from others. As Stephen Covey shares, “Humble people who achieve success recognize that they did not get to the top all by themselves, and willingly credit others who have helped along the way.”
From Abraham Lincoln, to all those lives reflected by the tombstones in Arlington Cemetery, to those like Glenn Dumont – thank you for the reminder of the importance of humility, in the value of serving others, and the insight into what makes for true leadership. So many have gone before us, having humbly paved the way for the freedoms that we enjoy every day and as Tom Brokaw stated, “These are our heroes – those people who rise to the occasion and slip quietly away.”