Keynote address on 5/30/14 to graduates of the
Community Leadership Program
(A program of the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber)
Dr. Miles Davis
There is no more important topic in our society today than leadership.
As I contemplated what I was going to say to you today, I decided to dig a little bit into history. In his political treatise entitled The Prince, Machiavelli argued it is better to be feared than to be loved. He went on to say, “Therefore a prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty, because with a few examples, he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise, from which follow murders or robberies; for these are wont to injure the whole people, whilst those executions which originate with a prince offend the individual only.”
This is not the world we live in today.
The Prince was written during the 16th century by an Italian diplomat who believed this was how things needed to be. The general theme within The Prince is that the aims of a prince—such as glory and survival—can justify the use of immoral means to achieve those ends. And while it may feel things still work that way in terms of politics in today’s society, Machiavelli was wrong. Fear will only inspire compliance based within that fear. It does not inspire someone to go the extra mile. In the words of a song, fear does not keep you on the telephone all night long. Fear does not keep you saying, “You hang up.”
“No, You hang up.”
“No you hang up.”
Fear doesn’t drive that.
It is better to have willing submission than malicious compliance. Following orders does not elevate our situation or the human condition. How many of you have worked in organizations where you have seen people do things exactly as they were told to do them? That’s not exactly the best place to work. It doesn’t elevate you.
We do not reach our potential out of fear!
As leaders, we’re supposed to be driving potential. Fear only drives us away from that which we fear as we seek to avoid the punishment that is implicit in our fear. It is love that moves us to higher levels as we embrace that which we love. We strive harder to please those we love, but this is not at all the same as running away from what we fear. While fear can indeed woo the world for a time, it is love that transforms our very being and can make us more than we already are.
Let me be clear what I mean. As a leader, I am not suggesting you be weak and bring cookies to work just so everyone will love you (Though bringing cookies to work isn’t a bad idea at all!). But in the absence of accountability, love turns into neglect. Think about that for a second. Think about the nature of relationships no matter what they are. And what happens when there is no accountability in the caring and loving relationship?
Accountability must instead be tempered with mercy, justice, and forgiveness. When we think about great leadership, why don’t we think about these terms? Why is the image always about force or being out in front?
Why don’t we discuss mercy?
Why don’t we discuss compassion?
Why don’t we discuss forgiveness?
This seems especially incongruent in a society which claims religion based in forgiveness as its overarching moral compass. Do you understand what I’m talking about?
We must first seek to serve if we are to be true leaders.
How do we make our family, our community, our organization, or our nation better if we do not truly serve them? Serve them in a way that puts service before self? Yes, I fully embrace my Rotarian creed.
He or she who will be an effective leader must first learn to serve. Make things better for those whom you wish to follow you, and they will follow you to the ends of the earth. Make things harder for them, and they’ll just be glad when you’re gone. You are not princesses or princes lording over kingdoms. As leaders, you will find yourself responsible for human beings who are trying to live out their aspirations, their hopes, and their dreams. If you want to earn —and the word earn is critical here—if you want to earn the right to lead them, then it is your job to make sure they have all they need to carry out their mission.
It is your job as a leader to make sure their lives are easier, not the other way around.
So I want to end on a quote from someone who was— and still is— the exemplification of leadership. This gentleman said, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers (you can insert whatever word you wish to use here: employees, subordinates) stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. In either case, it is a failure of leadership.” That is from General Colin Powell.
So I’d like you to consider that the model we talk about often—the model we grew up on, the model of the person who is out in front leading the charge—is a model rooted within a particular time and context. I believe it’s time to change that model. We live in a networked world. We live in a world of options. We live in a world of choices. If we truly wish to engage those whom we wish to lead, then I invite all of you to consider this: the question isn’t about what glory or fame are brought to you. The question that should be the measure of your effectiveness as a leader is what have you done every day to make the lives of those who follow you just a little bit easier?