June 22nd, 2012
01:03 AM ET

Letters to the President #1250: 'Rule five: Put aside pride '

Reporter's Note: President Obama is running for re-election. This week I’m writing my favorite guidelines for any politician who wants to win.

Dear Mr. President,

A lot of folks have trouble understanding the power of a strategic retreat. They believe in attacking, they believe in force, but they forget the enormous value of pulling back a bit, repositioning, and preparing for an effective charge. The reason? It fights their desperate feelings of pride.

Rule five: Put aside the pride.

I don’t mean, of course, that any president should be ridiculous or act the fool. What I am saying is that pride, while sometimes a good motivator, can also be a poisonous influence. Pride can make generals pursue calamitous strategies. Pride can keep people in bad relationships…with jobs, friends, even mates…much longer than is healthy. Pride can make people hold onto bad ideas far longer than they should.

Have you ever been in an argument in which you realized at some point that you were wrong, but your pride kept you from backing down? That’s what I’m talking about.

In some ways this goes hand in glove with yesterday’s letter about admitting when you are wrong. After all, a strong leader who is not afraid to say he made a mistake is less susceptible to the problems of pride. He or she has already come clean about his weaknesses and fallibility. The prideful soul, however, often feels compelled to prove every day in every moment that he is in the winning position. He doubles down on bad bets. He constantly throws good money and effort after bad. The closer he edges to the abyss, the more he insists he must be going the right way.

Perhaps I am wrong to say we should put aside pride, since I know that is difficult to do. Maybe instead I should say, make sure your pride is in the right place; that it depends not upon always proving you are right, but rather that you are always flexible and ready to consider another way.

More tomorrow.


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