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Is this the secret to leadership?

By Chris Golis - posted Monday, 6 July 2020

Recently published this interesting article on leadership - Is this the secret of smart leadership?  The article argues that humility is the secret to leadership by first quoting Socrates and his famous observation that the wisest people are the first to admit how little they really know. 

Good to Great by Jim Collins makes a similar point: the CEOs of great companies are Level 5 leaders.  They are humble, but driven to do what's best for the company.  I must confess that when I read Good to Great it appeared to me that the examples of the great, humble leaders were more likely to be founders who owned so much of the equity they could afford to be humble.  The “good” CEOs who were they were matched against had climbed to the top of the power structure using assertive and Machiavellian leadership.

The article made one very telling point: the author believes the current political leader who most exhibits humility is Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany since 2005.  The article also noted that Merkel prior to becoming a politician was a trained scientist; she was a quantum chemist.  Scientific thinking—her deliberate probing of each new bit of information, her cautious consultation with experts—remains integral to Merkel’s daily decision-making process and her political persona.  She is undoubtedly aware that her measured, modest handling of Germany’s affairs is at least partially why she has, for almost 15 years now, enjoyed the support of a country whose historical reverence for scientific achievement and great minds (think Kant, Einstein, innumerable others) is forever balanced by an acute wariness of charismatic leaders with big ideas (think Hitler). 


As someone who was personally trained as a scientist at Cambridge I can only agree.  One of the great myths perpetuated by people who lack scientific training is that the “science” proves something.  The opposite is the case.  What good science does is disprove commonly held beliefs and forces you to come up with an alternative hypothesis.  All the time you are adopting the Socrates mindset.  You are a sceptic; you realise you know little and begin by doubting everything.

A good example of this is the famous example of Galileo looking through the telescope and observing the moons of Jupiter rotating around it.  With this observation Galileo did not prove the earth and other planets rotate around the sun.  What Galileo did was disprove the Ptolemaic (and Catholic Church) view that all heavenly bodies rotated around the earth.  Subsequently Galileo did accept the Copernican hypothesis that the planets rotated around the Sun as the next best hypothesis but that was not his discovery.

This misguided view about science is commonly held particularly by politicians who are mostly trained as lawyers.  Take as an example this recent article by Adam Creighton in the 24 June 2020 edition of the Australian: Malcolm Turnbull urges Coalition to back ‘green new deal’ on energy.  In this article flanked by former UK Prime Minster, David Cameron, Turnbull states that saying you don’t believe in climate change is like saying you don’t believe in gravity.  The stupidity in this statement defies belief.  The greatest scientist of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, only developed his theories of Special and General Relativity because he expressly began to doubt Newton’s Law of Gravity.

The other outrageous claim in the article is by David Cameron who stated that British conservatives had a “much better inheritance”, given former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s support for initiatives to reduce global warming in the 1980s.  There is no question Mrs Thatcher was the first world leader to voice alarm over global warming, back in 1988.  She backed the setting up of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, and promised the Met Office lavish funding for its Hadley Centre, which she opened in 1990, as a world authority on “human-induced climate change”.  It is not widely appreciated, however, that there was a dramatic twist to her story. In 2003, towards the end of her last book, Statecraft, in a passage headed “Hot Air and Global Warming”, she issued what amounts to an almost complete recantation of her earlier views.

She voiced precisely the fundamental doubts about the warming scare that have since become familiar to us. Pouring scorn on the “doomsters”, she questioned the main scientific assumptions used to drive the scare, from the conviction that the chief force shaping world climate is CO2, rather than natural factors such as solar activity, to exaggerated claims about rising sea levels. She mocked Al Gore and the futility of “costly and economically damaging” schemes to reduce CO2 emissions. She cited the 2.5C rise in temperatures during the Medieval Warm Period as having had almost entirely beneficial effects. She pointed out that the dangers of a world getting colder are far worse than those of a CO2-enriched world growing warmer. She recognised how distortions of the science had been used to mask an anti-capitalist, Left-wing political agenda which posed a serious threat to the progress and prosperity of mankind.

In other words, long before it became fashionable, Lady Thatcher was converted to the view of those who, on both scientific and political grounds, are profoundly sceptical of the climate change ideology. Alas, what she set in train earlier continues to exercise its baleful influence to this day. But the fact that she became one of the first and most prominent of “climate sceptics” has been almost entirely buried from view.  (See Was Margaret Thatcher The First Climate Sceptic? 08/10/19, Christopher Booker, The Daily Telegraph).


I confess that conflating an article about humility in leadership with Malcolm Turnbull is somewhat ironic but I cannot let the scientific and historical inaccuracies made by Turnbull and Cameron pass without comment.

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About the Author

Chris Golis is Australia's expert on practical emotional intelligence. He is an author, professional speaker and workshop leader. His site is

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