Thursday, November 14, 2013

What Do You Desire in Your Leaders?

I read an interview in the Reader's Digest with author Malcolm Gladwell, whose most recent book is called "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants." The accompanying image (a sculpture of David, preparing to do battle with Goliath, by Bernini)
 drew me in; several quotes from the interview have stayed with me, and are worth reflection - particularly in our current political and business climate.
Reader's Digest Interviewer: What's the one thing you'd like us to take away from your book?
Malcolm Gladwell: That the greatest things in the world come from suffering.* It ought to give us solace. A lot of what is most beautiful about the world arises from struggle.
RD: You once said that we are always drawn to charismatic leaders, even though things often wind up badly. Why do you think that happens?
MG: Mistake number one is that we're interested in charisma. We often simply go for the physically imposing or attractive. Or we choose narcissists of one variety or another...We are also overly in love with certainty as a trait in our leaders.
 After reading and reflecting on those words, the following popped into my "inbox:"
"In the second half of life, you have begun to live and experience the joy of your inner purpose...At one and the same time, you know what you do know (but now deeply and quietly), and you also know what you do not know...Many politicians and clergy know what they know, but they don’t know what they don’t know, and that’s what makes them dangerous...A creative tension in the second half of life, knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know, is a necessary one." - Richard Rohr, adapted from Adult Christianity and How to Get There
In order to exercise leadership or employ our expertise, we must have courage. We must be willing to stand for what we know to be true. However, it takes great courage and humility - one might call it integrity - to admit to ourselves, and to others, what we do not know.

This integrity is essential in business, in public service, and in our personal lives, if relationships are to be healthy and sustainable. Great damage is done by individuals who - in pursuit of power, wealth, influence or "success" - do all that they can to appear to have great expertise and certainty, beyond the scope of their true ability. "I don't know...but I will find out" is a perfectly acceptable answer - and it can deepen trust in a relationship.

Further damage ensues when profit for our own entity is the only goal we seek. There is evidence of a "me first" standard in business today, witnessed by the conduct of executives and corporations in the news (for one awful example, see this article in Vanity Fair). "Me first" is a not a sustainable model in relationships; this lesson is taught in kindergarten.

Integrity should be our highest standard, far more than profit. Profits - and fortunes - will come and go, but character is lasting. We have the potential to create a world in which business, political and personal relationships function for mutual benefit and blessing. The way to begin is to practice integrity in each aspect of our own lives, in matters small and great, so that we are not divided, but whole and consistent human beings. We can make our choices, one at a time, with the intent to bless - and in doing so, we can transform the world, one decision, one transaction, one thought at a time.

*A word about suffering: although I take Gladwell's point about suffering bearing many fruits of benefit in the world, it is important to understand that many of these benefits are apparent only after the crisis of suffering has passed. It is difficult to see blessings in the midst of suffering, and one who attempts to comfort the sufferer by pointing to the blessings inherent in it, is likely to fail - and to alienate the sufferer.