At the Chick-fil-A Leadercast, Jim Collins just pointed out that great leaders in his research had the character strength of humility and those who fall could be described as having hubris. Collins is right. The Greek historian Heroditus who is referred to as the “father of history” warned his fellow Athenians of developing hubris in his great work The Persian Wars. Heroditus described how king Darius the Great of Persia showed hubris in attacking the small Greek City-State of Athens. Although the Athenians were overwhelmingly outnumbered, they routed the Persians. And years later when Darius’ son Xerxes tried to avenge his father’s humiliation, the Athenian’s defeated the Persians again.
Collins also pointed out that so often a crucible in life — cancer, economic depression, emotional depression, death of a loved one, etc. — shape people’s character so that hubris is replaced by humility. Collins wife’s battles with breast cancer helped him understand this. I know from my own experience how fear of losing the love of your life from something that’s out of your control develops a sense of humility. My wife Katie’s battles with breast and advanced ovarian cancer taught me this (I wrote about the experience in essay for Amazon Shorts entitled “Alone No Longer” that is widely circulated in healthcare communities.)
There are some great books that touch on how struggles in life affect the character of leaders. One of my favorites is Lincoln’s Melancholy by my friend Joshua Wolf Shenk. I also highly recommend the enthralling and inspiring Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy — A Righteous Gentile Versus the Third Reich by Eric Metaxas.