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A Truly Humble Man

In the book of Proverbs we read, “A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor.” (29:23). In this age of arrogance that we live in, it is rare that we find humble leaders, particularly in Washington D.C. However, when a humble leader emerges, you can clearly see the difference he or she makes.

One of the best examples of humility was witnessed in the life of Ronald Reagan. During his eight years in office, one of his great goals was to see the Berlin Wall torn down. He lobbied for it both publicly and also in private conversation with Mikhail Gorbachev. As events spun out of control in 1989, the people opened the gates, and the following year the official demolition of the Berlin wall began.

What is so interesting is that in 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev, and not Ronald Reagan, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. President Reagan, who had fought so hard to see the demolition of the wall, received no credit, yet he never complained. His son Michael wrote these words in his book, Lessons My Father Taught Me:

My father wasn’t hungry for praise and applause. He just wanted to achieve the goal. One reason my father was willing to let Mikhail Gorbachev take all the credit was that he knew Gorbachev needed to look like a hero and a leader to his own people, or he would be undermined in his own country. So Dad was willing to give Gorbachev the credit if it would enable Gorbachev to relax the restrictions on the people of East Germany.

Throughout his eight years as president, my father kept a brass plaque on the Resolute desk in the Oval Office that read: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” That was not a mere platitude. That was literally how he lived his life.

Pat Williams points out that the humility of Ronald Reagan is exemplified by his ranch in California where a modest 1,500 square foot Spanish-style ranch house sat on 688 acres. He remodeled it himself after leaving office as governor of California. He hosted many heads of state and prominent visitors in his humble abode. As his son Michael revealed: “My father was a humble man who didn’t feel any need to impress other leaders with ostentatious surroundings.”

In President Reagan’s farewell address to the nation he said,

I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: it was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation—from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries . . .

My friends: We did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.  

What strikes me in these words is that the accomplishments he refers to are described using the plural pronouns “we” and “our.” He did not take the credit; he saw it as a joint effort among all of us. This is the mark of a humble leader. If only we had more Ronald Reagans in Washington.


Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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