Remember You are Mortal!

Image (c) Francisco _ Osorio

John Kotter, a leadership guru, once said that “over the years I have become convinced that we learn best–and change–from hearing stories that strike a chord within us.” The human heart and mind is hardwired to respond to stories.  This is why our conversations and thought processes are presented as stories and the reason why we love movies, books, TV shows, newspapers, etc. We all love a good story. I heard this short leadership story called “Remember you are mortal” many years ago and have never forgotten it. I thought I’d share it with you today and get your comments and views on it. Also share this story with friends and colleagues (via Email, Twitter and Facebook). Don’t keep it to yourself.

These words are believed to have been used in ancient Rome when a Roman general walks the streets of Rome after a victorious military campaign. There is usually a slave behind the general whose job was to remind him that he was mortal. This was to ensure that the general doesn’t become proud as a result of the crowd’s praise. The words “Remember you are mortal” helped keep many Roman generals humble and grounded, given that just because they are the flavour of the month today, does not mean that they will always be at the top.

This leadership story has been retold over the years to help leaders avoid getting seduced by power and fame especially when people around them tell them that they are the best thing since sliced bread. It is important for leaders to take everything with a pinch of salt and strive to stay humble and grounded. The constant consciousness of your mortality helps guard against thoughts of invincibility.

So folks, do you have someone in your team or life who is constantly reminding you that you are mortal or are you surrounded by people who keep telling you that you are the best thing since sliced bread? Always remember, you are mortal.

2 replies on “Remember You are Mortal!”

Interesting take on the need to remain humble. Somehow, though, I wonder if people might use this as an excuse to limit themselves. I definitely appreciate a good mantra, including the words of Phil 4:13, Rom 8:28, Psalm 138:8; the list goes on.
So, Prof, what exactly are you saying in this post? Is it wrong for me to encourage myself and others with flattering words that are more or less true…at least by faith? Or is this where the pinch of salt comes in?

Here’s what I’m hearing: be careful which words I listen to, and maintain the right focus.

Hey Oge,
you have captured exactly what I am saying in your conclusion: “be careful which words I listen to, and maintain the right focus.” I believe it is important to appreciate praise and positive feedback from others but not get carried away by flattery especially from sycophants as a leader.

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