Five Stages of Leadership – Humiliation (Part 2)


One of the most important lessons President Barack Obama and his minions must learn as they bask in political success is that humiliation follows hubris – sometimes quickly.

It didn’t take long for the sparkle of Camelot ignited by the vigorous young President John F. Kennedy to become a reeking smudge pot of humiliation stoked by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Young Kennedy was determined to rush ahead into a summit with Khrushchev despite top advisors’ concerns. Dean Rusk, who would become Kennedy’s Secretary of State, had opined prior to his appointment that “these two men should be kept apart until others have found a sure meeting ground of accommodation between them.” George Kennan, who had negotiated often with the Soviets, said it was much too soon to conduct a high-level meeting, that much groundwork was needed, performed by lower-level staff.  But Kennedy, hubris-intoxicated, pressed on.

The meeting in Vienna in June 1961 resulted in Kennedy’s humiliation as wily old Khrushchev made him look like the novice he was. History would remember the summit “as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age,” wrote Nathan Thrall and Jesse James Wilkins in The New York Times op-ed titled, “Kennedy Talked, Khrushchev Triumphed.”

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