An Exposé: Grading & the God-Complex

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:

My Favorite Leadership Quality (It Begins with ‘H’…)

Several months ago I blogged about how an on-line discussion thread sought to define leadership in one word (see 19,731 Definitions of Leadership). It was an interesting idea even though it is an impossible task. Leadership is far too complex and interdisciplinary to be summed up in one word. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t possess a preference for certain aspects of leadership. Some of you may value a leader who is strong in communication; others look for those who have a genuine concern for people, while some will prefer a gifted strategist.

I also have a favorite leadership quality. It took me many years to realize how much I valued it. In fact, it likely became more significant as I grew older. It’s a very common and simple practice and it’s called,

h  u  m  i  l  i  t  y .

When I first typed this word I used capital letters and put it in bold. But it just didn’t fit because….well…. because it’s humility. It’s not supposed to be in flashing lights, fancy fonts or bold letters. By definition, humility is having a modest view of one’s own importance. St. Barnard once stated that humility is “a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself”. It is a noble and challenging goal. Perhaps this is even more true in a digital age which encourages us to self-promote ourselves and create on-line identities that are far larger-than-life.

However, the people I really like to spend time with are humble. They include people like Sarah who hired me to coach her because she thinks she has blind spots that are holding her back. You need to be honest and humble to say that! Or it includes the community leader who I just discovered had a doctorate. When I met with him he made me feel like the smartest guy in the room. But I wasn’t. Somehow, the attitude of humble people creates a space that others need. And as er practice humility, it coaxes the best out of others. While I cannot logically explain it, I’m at my best around humble people. That’s why humility is my favorite leadership quality.

How about you? What is your favorite?

As you assess the things that you value in a leader, it may help you to reference my triadic model of leadership. This simple diagram outlines three key ingredients of leadership:Triadic

  1. What a leader does: the measures and outcomes of leadership.
  2. Who a leader is: the identity and characteristics of a leader.
  3. Why a leader leads: the motives of a leader.

The topic of this blog reflects the theme of ‘who’. Humility is an aspect of the DNA of a leader – who she or he is. I encourage you to write down the two or three things that come to mind when you consider your favorite leadership qualities. Often they reflect a particular corner. This simple little test often reveals a lot about what you value in leaders.

The mic is now yours. So what’s your favorite leadership quality? And why?

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After writing this introspective blog, Jeff Suderman decided to forgo his usual bio. He’s not very humble but he’s trying!  Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:


The Three C’s of an Effective Hire

Many years ago I solicited the insight of my boss regarding a difficult choice for a hiring decision. However, instead of giving his input, he provided me with a principle by which he expected me to make the decision (for more on principle related decision making read Do You Adopt or Adapt?). He referred to it as the three-C’s of a hire:

  1. Competence: Does the individual have the ability to do the job? In some cases, this refers to competence which can be developed based on demonstrated abilities.
  2. Character: Does this person have character which aligns with organizational expectations and is ethically sound?
  3. Chemistry: Does this person have a demeanor and style which fits with you and the team they will be working in.

I have used this principle extensively. When making difficult decisions, I can usually isolate my hiring concerns to one of these three areas. This simple rubric has also helped me change how I interview. I believe that 80% of interview questions only focus on competence! Therefore, I have had to develop questions which help me understand chemistry and character. Here are two great examples of how this can be done. While interviewing for an organization in Southeast Asia, I was asked, “When is it OK to break the rules”. That is a great character question in a region where bribery is normal! When I was a finalist for another job, I was taken out to lunch with the team. After my reply to a comment brought the entire table to laughter, I know that they had a pretty good insight into team chemistry.

One of my students recently taught me a more sophisticated version of this concept (thanks Jeremy!).

  1. Person-job fit: does the individual fit this vocation?
  2. Person-supervisor fit: does the individual fit the supervisor they will report to?
  3. Person-group fit: does the individual fit with those they work with on a daily basis?
  4. Person-organization fit: does the individual fit the company?(Kristof-Brown)
  5. Person-culture fit: does the individual fit the culture of this organization? (O’Reilly)

A bad hire is costly! I believe that many poor choices are a result of inadequate consideration of the three C’s. Interviewing for character, competence and chemistry is one way to decrease the risk.


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Kristof-Brown, A. L., Zimmerman, R. D., & Johnson, E. C. (2005). Consequences of individuals’ fit at work: A meta-analysis of person-job, person-organization, person-group, and person-supervisor fit. Pesonnel Psychology(58), pp. 281-342.
O’Reilly III, C. A., Chatman, J., & Caldwell, D. F. (1991). People and organizational culture: A profile comparision approach to assessing person-organization fit. Academy of Mangement Journal, 34(3), pp. 487-516. doi:10.2307/256404