Moses as Venture Capitalist?

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Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines humiltiy as "the quality or state of being humble." Interestingly, it does not require self-effacement, turn the other cheek, or self-flagellation (let alone that wonderful term, defenstration). These are not attributes of being humble, or, by extension, humility. The most famous, and probably earliest recorded, humble person is none other than Moses in the Bible. Whether the Bible is history or fiction for you, the Bible's author clearly states that Moses was more humble than any person on the face of the earth. This is an interesting description of the man who:

  • Stood up to the single most powerful ruler on the face of the planet (Pharaoh)
  • Championed the rights of the downtrodden slaves (the Hebrews)
  • Picked fights with the Almighty, and often won

It is fairly clear that Moses was not limited or downtrodden, and was eminently aware of his strengths. Rather, he also knew his limitations in all areas of life. As talented and powerful a leader as he was, he knew that it did not make him better than anyone else. Rather, he understood that he had certain talents and a mission with which to apply those talents. At the same time, he understood that each and every other person also had talents, at which they were likely to be far better than he. Thus, Moses, real or fictional, was humble in that he recognized both his strengths and his inherent limitations, and understood that he had what to learn from and give to each and every individual.

Any of us who have had the pleasure to work with or for a truly great leader, whether in business, non-profit, academia or government, recognizes that these are precisely the characteristics that make for such leaders. They are confident without being arrogant, treat every person with respect, not out of need for their benefit (like a self-focused manager) or adoration (like a media-conscious politician), but rather out of understanding that they truly can learn from that person. At the same time, they do not self-efface, and they fully recognize that they have skills, responsibilities and authority, which they wield responsibly.

At the same time, those who have been involved in the venture capital world, or, for that matter, any executive world, know that it is desperately short on such humility. A slide show online called "VC Non-Admissions," linked below, is a list of 13 admissions you will supposedly never hear a venture capitalist make. The presentation is both entertaining and somewhat depressing. One upside to the current downturn, however, especially as it cuts like a scythe through both the VC and corporate worlds, is that the winnowing out is likely to lead to the emergence of more mature leaders in both areas.

Here is the presentation.