The Truth About Good Leadership: Start By Being A Good Person

In Jim Collin’s classic book, “Good to Great,” he showed how great companies triumph over time and how long-term sustained performance can be engineered into the DNA of an enterprise from the very beginning. It’s not only a good book. It’s a great book.

In the pursuit of greatness, which Collin’s book undoubtedly will inspire, don’t forget the foundation: goodness. In a world that reveres the pursuit of greatness, basic values such as kindness, consideration, honesty, compassion, dependability, respect for others, and hard work, are undervalued. How often do we see the winners of gold medals, leaders of successful companies, and the Stanley Cup champions venerated in the headlines of our national newspapers? Compare these kinds of recognized accomplishments with people revered for being a good person, for simply exhibiting qualities of strong character.

In my workshops I use an exercise: Think of three people you admire. They could be real people, such as Abraham Lincoln or your grandmother, or mythical characters such as Hercules or Santa Claus. For me, they would be my mother, my father, and Viktor Frankl.

Now think of the character traits that make each of your chosen characters admirable to you. For example, I admire my mother for her wisdom; my father for his compassion, and Viktor Frankl for his resiliency and dignity.

I then have my workshop participants compare these admirable traits with the typical success markers of our culture, the kind of traits featured in Fortune magazine. After doing this exercise with thousands of people, I have yet to have any choose characters they admire with qualities such as fame, beauty, power, youth, or wealth. It is fascinating that culturally we gravitate unconsciously to things that ultimately mean so little to us.

What I’m saying is that the roots of great, authentic leadership are being a good person. Don’t go for greatness until others view you as exhibiting the qualities of “goodness.” There’s nothing wrong with the inspiring path of “greatness,” if that is what is important to you. But if, on the journey to success by the world’s standards (what I call outer success), you lose contact with inner success, (the realization of goodness in your life), what will you be left with?

You want to be a good leader? Start with being a good person. Then you’ll have something to stand on in the pursuit of greatness.