I have been preparing to teach a course on leadership. I am also a Ted junkie. David Brooks has a wonderful Ted talk he gives on the amount of time we spend on resume virtues – skills, competencies, potential, intelligence – stuff we bring to the marketplace vs eulogy virtues – deeper more fundamental qualities of the self, such as the nature of your relationships, the love and care you show others, how you demonstrate courage, empathy, selflessness, your search for the good, how you give to the less fortunate etc – these are the things we do — not to be seen or advance ourselves in the eyes of others, but because they are the right things to do in and of themselves. Most of us, including people in leadership, spend a great deal of life preoccupied with the resume virtues. This side of us is driven by worldly ambition and the drive to “succeed,” the other side of us is drawn by a calling to not just know the good, but to do good. Eulogy Virtues animate us with love, hope, redemption, and forgiveness.
In reading for my course on leadership, I have been stuck by what seems to me trending in current theories of leadership a recasting of what Brooks would call eulogy virtues into resume virtues. It is a bit troubling reading Authentic Leadership or Emotional Intelligence because the empathy coached or the authenticity recommended feels as if it is always a means to an end for the aspiring leader. It thus feels Orwellian. Call it “be your authentic self and show part of who you are to your followers” or say, “be aware of the emotional needs of you team members,” but the goal is still the same worldly ambition and success. So if the lash does not work to produce quarterly results pretend you “really really do care.”
It seems that many of these new leadership recipe books, guidebooks, and how to be a leader books could be read this way by some people. That is why at the core of some of the better works on leadership is the message that a leader must really believe deep down that he/she is driven by a greater good. To make the world a better place, to transform lives, to provide economic opportunity, or to fulfill a passion greater than himself. That is of course the only thing that will allow you to inspire others. But beware of using empty eulogy virtues as resume virtues. Realize the things that make for truly Great Leaders – the belief and affirmation of hope no matter the challenge; the cultivation and sharing of faith; knowing and acting not from self, but out of a love of the greater cause or good; humility; and the practice of forgiveness even in the face of rejection, criticism, and cruelty.
Brooks ends with this quote from Reinhold Niebuhr: “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime therefore we must be saved by hope; Nothing which is true, or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history therefore we must be saved by faith; Nothing we do however virtuous can be accomplished alone therefore we must be saved by love; No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own standpoint therefore we must be saved by that highest act of love which is forgiveness.”