Parents, Leadership, and Humility

Parents, Leadership, and Humility


James L. Casale

Humility is a leadership trait. Parents are, for better or worse, leaders who can influence their children and their children’s children. Sam Walker, writing in the WSJ,offers searing evidence that heroic individuals who act calmly in life-or-death situations do so because they are true leaders who are knowledgeable, composed, collaborative, and confident. And at the end of it all, they are humble. Parents need to model all of these leadership traits to be successful and raise successful kids.

Mr. Walker cites three examples, two airline pilots and one mine foreman, who, due to their heroic actions, saved hundreds of lives. All three had similar leadership qualities that parents should emulate.

Thirty years ago, Alfred Haynes, a former Marine aviator and commercial pilot, put on a “crisis management masterclass” as he guided his DC 10 to a crash landing that saved hundreds of lives. The tail engine had blown apart, and the shrapnel from the explosion had disabled all the hydraulic lines controlling the rudder and flaps. There were no brakes. He had to land the plane at twice the normal speed.

Upon landing, the plane broke into four pieces. No one was expected to survive. However, 184 out of 296 did survive, including the crew. At a subsequent news conference, Captain Haynes said that there were no heroes, “just a group of people who did their jobs.”  Calm, humble, composed, and knowledgeable are words that easily describe the pilot.

A more recent example that captured the world’s attention is the heroics of Chelsey Sullenberger, who, in 2009, landed his commercial jet on the Hudson River without a single loss of life. “We were simply doing what we were paid to do,” said the modest pilot.

The third example is less well known. Luis Urzua was the foreman of a group of miners trapped in a Chilean mine that caved in. This calm and quick-thinking man remained with his men for 10 weeks before they were rescued. He insisted on being the last man out. Afterward, he said, “ We learned to keep our composure.”

Parents don’t usually find themselves in life-or-death situations that may affect hundreds of people, but those of us who are raising kids are no strangers to crises or potential crises. Jimmy falls out of a tree. The house is on fire. Grandma trips and falls. Joey swallows a dishwasher pod. Stephanie falls into the pool. The family car with everybody in it is rear-ended. Need I go on? Are you ready?

Even if you feel you command the safety police at home, stuff happens. While you may never be accused of negligence, like the couple who somehow lost track of their toddler who fell into the gorilla’s zoo enclosure in Cincinnati or the man in New York City  who forgot to drop off his children at the daycare and left them in a hot car for eight hours, no one is immune to unforeseen events.

Do you know how you will act in a crisis? Are you aware of the qualities you need to mitigate dangerous situations? Do you fully understand your role as the leaders of your family? Is humility, knowledge, composure, confidence, and collaboration part of your repertoire, and are you modeling it for your children? The following leadership qualities must be evident if you expect to be an effective parent:

Composure: Somebody has to be in charge. It helps if it’s the adults in the room. Your kids are watching and learning.  How you act in a crisis will have a lasting effect, and it is easier to stay calm and emotionally in control if you know what to do and have some basic knowledge other than calling 911.

Accurate Information: Heroes who save hundreds of lives, like pilots, boat captains, or mine foremen, are experts in their field. First responders save lives daily and later claim they were only doing the job they were trained for.

Ordinary citizens who save lives in a crisis act instinctively to help others. They run into burning buildings or pull people out of cars in devastating accidents. When interviewed afterward, none consider themselves heroes.

Parents often act instinctively, too, but accurate information about how to act in specific situations will honor your legacy as a parent. Take a first aid course,  safety-proof your house, collaborate with first responders, and keep those important telephone numbers handy.

Collaboration: If the other head is available, two heads are better than one. If only one parent is present, be sure to have immediate access to one or two other heads you can confer with. It could be your spouse, doctor, neighbor, relative, or friend. Again, keep those emergency numbers handy and stay composed.

Confidence: Your kids get their confidence from you. How you conduct yourselves as parents and model your expectations are the cornerstones of raising successful kids. Staying connected to your kids is critical. This requires that you believe in yourself and your abilities. Confidence is rooted in knowing what you are doing and putting this knowledge on display for all to see. Your kids are watching and learning.


Ignorance is never bliss; it’s dangerous and can be fatal. Read the papers or watch the news if you are not convinced. Anybody with kids can claim to be a parent, but successful parents fully understand their sacred and primary responsibility: the safety and security of their children.

It’s never too late to be a more effective parent. Effective parents depend on strong beliefs and accurate information and dedicate themselves to modeling expected behaviors. They understand that their leadership roles require composure, accurate information, collaboration, and confidence. And yes, humility and modesty count.

(Mr. Walker’s article appeared in the WSJ on 7/27–28/19. I recommend it highly.)

Dr. Casale is both a state and national award-winning educator: Florida Teacher of the Year and National School of Excellence Principal from Harrison, NY. He is a published author and a national speaker.  His website is Follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.