An Exposé: Grading & the God-Complex

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As a part-time professor, I have the responsibility and privilege of grading dozens of student papers each year. My best estimate is that I have graded over 500 papers in the past twelve months. It is a privilege to work with so many bright minds!

However, I have noticed a troubling pattern when I get enter ‘grading mode’. I have discovered that the more I grade, the more I tend to embrace the qualities of a god-complex. As a reminder, a god-complex “is an unshakable belief characterized by consistently inflated feelings of personal ability, privilege, or infallibility”. Perhaps this sounds annoyingly familiar to you as well?

For me, grading is a natural catalyst for this problem. Telling dozens of people what they need to improve is a simple way to induce the onset of god-complex. And in turn, it also spills over into other areas of life as well.

I get a bit picky.

I judge things I have no right to judge.

I give opinions about things that are none of my business.

And this is not a good thing!

So now that I’ve bared my soul, I’ll ask you to do the same. You see, I also have friends that demonstrate the symptoms of god-complex. In fact, you may be one of them! You see, I think we all suffer from this disease at times. And left unchecked, it causes all sorts of damage. So in the spirit of improving your health, I want to remind so about some of the places you can catch the god-complex:

  1. Graduation – A classy sheet of paper covered with calligraphy and signatures is often also accompanied by a case of ‘know-it-all’.
  2. A promotion – That nice salary bump, a new office and added responsibility often cause an inflated ego – a tell-tale sign of the god-complex.
  3. Being a parent – Preaching at your kids about all those lessons that you learned the hard way when you were a kid is often evidence of a runaway god-complex.
  4. Compliments – Mismanaged compliments can quickly lead to rapid swelling of the ego.
  5. Marriage – When you live with someone it’s really easy to identify their weak spots. This can easily turn into god-complex. Unless it is diagnosed early, it is a sure-fire way to kill a relationship!

Tim Harford, an economist and journalist sums it up well:

I see the god-complex around me all the time in my fellow economists. I see it in our business leaders. I see it in the politicians we vote for – people who, in the face of an incredibly complicated world, are nevertheless absolutely convinced that they understand the way that the world works.

Several weeks ago I blogged about the opposite of the God-complex, something called humility (see My Favorite Leadership Quality). Humility is the antidote to a God-complex. While we can liken the God-complex to a virus that we catch, humility is more like a muscle that we develop. While the God-complex can be caught, humility is not. Instead, humility is nurtured. It is something you must intentionally grow, develop and strengthen over time. So if the God-complex is a virus, the antidote – humility – is a muscle which must be stretched and exercised. Doing so provides the best antidote for the God-complex that I know of.

My in-box is full of papers that need grading so I must go. However, there is no need to be concerned for me. Writing this blog will be a healthy antidote for my god-complex for a few weeks. However, I know I’ll need another booster soon. How about you?

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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:


  1. Kenn Gray

    Fantastic as always! Thanks Jeff for your mentoring and knowledge! Inspired!

    • Jeff Suderman

      Thanks so much Kenn! It has been a pleasure having you join our community.


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