Out Like Flynn: The Humbling of Hubris

The bigger the ego, the more susceptible it is to being blindsided. Just a few weeks ago, Ret. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was selected to be President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor. Today he joins the ranks of the unemployed.

It’s a breathtaking fall from the top echelons of privilege and power. Here was a decorated soldier with a prescient sense of where the electoral pendulum would swing. He jumped on the Trump Train early on, and became one of its most fiercely dedicated engineers. His endorsement of Trump added military credibility and muscle, while ginning up the far reaches of the right-wing base.

Leadership is a strange thing. The more you rise, the harder it is to stay in touch with the ranks from which you came. Leaders get a lot of cues that tell them they’re special. First, they exist in smaller numbers, literally making them a “rare breed”. Second, they get more perks, often in the form of bigger titles, bigger workspaces, and bigger salaries. Naturally, bigger egos follow. Finally, leaders get a lot more behavioral latitude. Nobody challenges them when they show up late for meetings, interrupt people, or skirt policies with which people at lower levels have to comply. Given the special treatment that leaders get, is it any wonder that some begin to believe that they are, in fact, special?

Flynn’s own view of his specialness is displayed in his resignation letter where he highlights how he performed his duties “with the utmost of integrity and honesty”. If you have to tell people about how much integrity and honesty you have, you probably need more of both.

Arrogance might be another word Flynn should add to his list of attributes. As the ex-Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he should have known that his conversations with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, were being taped. He should have known that he was providing Vice President Mike Pence with “incomplete information” when he “inadvertently” left out the part about conversing with the ambassador about lifting sanctions that had been placed on Russia by the Obama administration – sanctions that were levied for interfering with the U.S. election. He should have known that the Russians, potentially, could use such information to compromise him.

In my new book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass, I describe such arrogance as comfortable oblivion. It’s a common condition among leaders who have become so overconfident that they’ve lost sight of their infallibility. When a leader becomes so convinced of their own specialness that they no longer heed common rules of decorum and engagement, they become ripe for a psychological ass-kicking of their own making. Michael Flynn is out because he gave himself the boot.

It has been said that there are two kinds of leaders; those who have been humbled, and those who are about to be. In the same way that hubris eventually leads to humiliation, humiliation can lead to humility. If Michael Flynn can get over himself, he may reclaim his integrity and honesty and put them to good use. In the end, humility trumps arrogance.

Bill Treasurer is the author of four books, including A Leadership Kick in the Ass, which focuses on the importance of humility, goodness, and redemption. For over two decades, Bill has worked with thousands of emerging and experienced leaders to strengthen their leadership impact. Among others, Bill’s clients include NASA, Lenovo, Saks Fifth Avenue, Walsh Construction, Hugo Boss, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Learn more at www.BillTreasurer.com.

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