Nineteen years ago, Max DePree, in Leadership is an Art, wrote, “the art of leadership requires us to think about the leader-as-steward in terms of relationships: of assets and legacy, of momentum and effectiveness, of civility and values.”
Just about a year ago, William Safire reminded us, in THE NEW YORK TIMES, that in the original Greek, the meaning of character is “to mark, to engrave.”
The issues of executive performance and compensation, celebrity CEOs and outrageous-to-obvious advertising and programming content all turn on the question of whether today’s leaders are interested in integrity. DePree got it right, in that he provided the key to not just to doing the right thing but to what really delivers results. As long as we are as concerned with legacy — with leaving things better than we found them — as we are with our own success and power, we stand a better chance not just of acting with integrity but of making decisions that make sense … because we’re focused on something bigger than ourselves, perhaps less mortal, and just the act of questioning and testing ourselves can often save us from a self-absorbed act.
We might slip now and then. But as long as we have a dictionary around, there is hope. Here’s to corporate leaders who mark and engrave not our hides but our minds, in ways that lift us not just to buy but to follow.