The final post in a 3-part series, three undergraduate Wharton students reflect on their lessons from the U.S. Naval Academy’s Leadership Conference in February 2011. Students from over 20 different schools, military and civilian, gathered in Annapolis, MD for three days of leadership development workshops and experiences.
Reflections from Colin Lee (W’11), Patrick Glover (W’11) and Christian Hoogerheyde (W’11) are featured. This is the final part of a 3-part series.
Part 3: Christian Hoogerheyde, W’11
For as long as I could remember, I was consumed with an overwhelming sense of personal pride. My pride became impossible to ignore when I held student leadership positions in middle school and high school, for I succumbed to what I have termed the “When I’m Gone” syndrome: the desire to be “missed” when I had moved on from a position of leadership and the subconscious hope that others might grieve my departure and compare the accomplishments of my successors to my own. I am ashamed to admit this, but I remember feeling that I wanted my successors to be good, but not too good, so that my achievements might still shine in comparison.
It wasn’t until recently, however, that I became aware of how terribly detrimental this perspective (and pride as a whole) was for my ability to become a great leader. Fortunately, my pursuit of genuine humility was re-ignited during the United States Naval Academy’s leadership conference. One speech in particular really encouraged me to re-examine my pride and its consequences on my ability to truly lead.
This speech was given by Captain Robert E. Clark II, Commandant of Midshipmen at USNA, a man whose primary role is to oversee the training and development of the United States’ future naval officers at the academy. Captain Clark spoke about a leader’s duty to the future of his organization and commitment to ensuring his organization could survive without his leadership, no matter the personal sacrifice. A leader’s true responsibility, he stressed, was not to ensure the current success of his organization but rather to train and educate his reliefs so that they could achieve great (or rather, greater) things in the future. Captain Clark then challenged us, asking “Are you working hard to ensure that your successors lead even better than you did, and that your organization becomes even better after you are gone? Great leaders are great teachers, and they commit themselves to teaching their successors.” In essence, Captain Clark was telling us that there was no place for the “When I’m Gone” syndrome in a leader, that there was no room for such vanity, ever.
Upon returning home from the conference I committed myself to the life-long pursuit of a humble spirit. And already, after just a few weeks of intense self-examination, my heart is beginning to change and I am becoming increasingly aware of the many ways in which I have been blessed. I am realizing that it is not important if my successors receive more praise and admiration than I did; in fact, if this happens, then we all have much to celebrate! It is not a matter of swallowing my pride—which would imply I am only hiding it from the gaze of others—but rather a matter of shedding my pride, of ridding myself of it once and for all. In the end, I am well aware that my search for humility will truly be a life-long pursuit and that I will never be able to say I have gone “far enough”. But even at this early stage, I have a better understanding of the way in which pride undermines leadership. With humility, and only with humility, can a leader be truly extraordinary.
Christian Hoogerheyde is a senior at Wharton concentrating in Business and Public Policy and OPIM, and is the outgoing WLV Advisory Board chair. After Wharton, he will join IBM as a public sector consultant in Washington, D.C. He plans on seeking genuine humility for the rest of his life.