Now that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has some time on his hands, I'd like to book him as a trainer for public figures. He's got a message folks from all walks of life could use: Be humble.
The newly minted Catholic understands who he is and what his role is. And that's the underplayed key to leadership.
During a recent interview with the London Times, Blair was asked about his post-Downing Street religious conversion to Catholicism. The interviewer wanted Blair to weigh in on whether a person would be "better off believing that Jesus was the Son of God." Obviously, if Blair believes what his Christian faith teaches, he does. But he answered adroitly: "I believe in and I hold the doctrines of the Christian faith. But I think that when you start to engage in that type of thing -- that actually you'd be better off if you converted to my faith -- if you're not incredibly careful about how you approach that conversation -- that's actually what leads to a lot of confrontation and difficulty."
That wasn't a preacher's answer -- Blair not being a preacher. It was, of course, a smart political answer. With the new Tony Blair Faith Foundation he's establishing, Blair wants to encourage and mediate interfaith dialogue. Walking into such discussions having declared he wants to convert everyone who doesn't share his faith wouldn't be the most efficient approach. But it was also an answer that highlighted a key tool that every leader needs: humility. A sense of what to say when. A guidepost to knowing what your expertise is and what it is not. All too often, mishaps happen in public life when folks with bullhorns say things they don't know enough about.
You don't have to be a politician to need to take the lesson to heart. Oprah Winfrey learned this the hard way. It's a free country, and she's free to endorse Sen. Barack Obama, but choices have consequences, and there have been consequences to her Obamamania. Her favorability ratings (though still a politician's dream -- 55 percent) are at their lowest, and her negatives are at their highest. It was an odd thing for a woman who preaches empowerment to rally folks to a traditional, big-government liberal. I bet if she thought about it, she'd agree. I bet, like so many others, she got caught up in Obama's eloquence, energy and the milestone aspect of it all, and projected her hopes and dreams onto Obama. It happens to the best of us, and she'll survive.