Given the Carolina Panthers’ extraordinary season and success-to-date, now seems like a great time to share this excerpt from the “Humility” chapter of my upcoming book, Leading: The Way – Behaviors That Drive Your Success.

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending.
You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds?
Lay first the foundation of humility.
– Saint Augustine

Cade Pope, a 12-year-old boy from Oklahoma, set out on a quest to determine which professional football team he should support. His home state does not have its own pro team, so it’s easy to imagine Cade trying to determine which team is “his.” Which colors should he wear? Which player stats should he Google? Where did the quarterback play college ball?The questions, which were very real to him, are likely insignificant (and unfathomable) to some adults. The point remains, though: Cade wanted a “team.” He wanted to be a fan, so he took the unusual step of handwriting letters last year to the owners of all 32 NFL football teams, explaining his dilemma and asking each owner to help him decide.


Out of 32 NFL owners, one actually responded to Cade. Just one. And just like Cade, Jerry Richardson, the owner of the Carolina Panthers – valued at more than a billion dollars – hand-wrote his response, which read, in part:

“We would be honored if our Carolina Panthers became your team.
We would make you proud by the classy way we would represent you.”
– Jerry Richardson

That is humility in action. Humility – an essential behavior of successful leaders — is the opposite of arrogance. It is the quality of being modest and respectful, recognizing when you don’t know all the answers and acknowledging that fact.


In his charming response, NFL owner Jerry Richardson was both modest and respectful. Like the other powerful, influential, busy NFL owners on Cade’s mailing list, Richardson had options. He could have tossed Cade’s letter in the trash. He could have had a staff member respond to Cade. He could have responded with a “form” letter. He could have sent a team trinket (indeed, he did include a Panthers’ helmet with his handwritten response, signed by defensive leader, Luke Kuechly).

Cade probably would have been thrilled with any type of response, but Mr. Richardson, with his handwritten note, seemed to recognize and acknowledge that we are all codependent on the world and on other people.