During the past several weeks, we have seen more than our fair share of leaders behaving badly (see Messrs. Schwarzenneger, Weiner, et al). While saddening, we’ve all experienced enough in our lives to make it all anything but shocking, I’m afraid. (Several years back, I had the unfortunate experience of working in an organization whose truly brilliant and visionary but equally undisciplined division leader was not only openly conducting an extramarital affair with an employee, but was also eagerly advising other executives how to do so).
Many a gallon of ink (or, the electronic equivalent) has been spilled in recent weeks pondering the meaning and impact of such leader misbehavior. While I suspect that most of the bad behavior is the result of ego, power, greed, hubris — or some combination thereof — I’d like to go in a different direction today, if I might. I’d like to reflect in this space on the impact of honorable behavior by the “quiet leaders” in our lives — the men and women who get up each morning trying to do the right thing, set the right example, and help us see right from wrong, often without saying a word.
Real Leaders and True Gentlemen (and women)
As a baseball fan, I enjoy collecting anecdotes, memorabilia, stories, and perspectives on the game. My favorite baseball quote, however, actually has nothing at all to do with baseball, per se. David Cone, an outstanding pitcher and World Series winner with several teams in the ’90’s, was once asked what it was like facing the pressure of pitching in a big game. He smiled thoughtfully and answered, “Let me tell you about pressure. Pressure isn’t pitching in a game. Pressure is what my dad did — getting up every morning for 40 years to go to work, rain or shine, to support your family. That’s pressure. This is nothing compared to that.”
Yes, indeed. If we’re fortunate enough to have “leaders by example” in our lives — and hopefully each of us are — I do believe that it is those folks who tell us (or show us, really) the most about what it means to do the right thing, every day. They show us not only what to do, but how to interact with others. A friend in college once shared with me the credo of his fraternity (Sigma Alpha Epsilon), that sums it up so well — in one sentence:
“The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.”
– John Walter Wayland, Virginia 1899
For all of the unsung “true gentlemen” (and women) in our lives: thank you.