By Luis G Franceschi
At the faculty of law, while in university, Tony, a good friend, told me that if I wanted to be a leader I had to be shrewd, demanding on friends, merciless when they let me down, and make sure I made more money than they did. Leadership, he said, was about power, influence and results.
This is the idea many still entertain.
Tony committed suicide by jumping from a skyscraper. He was 25 and had already become a renowned lawyer. He was shrewd, demanding and merciless, had a beautiful girlfriend and had made more money than me. But he wasn’t happy. He wrote his last letter to me and explained what he was about to do.
TIME HAS TAUGHT ME THE LESSON: Happiness cannot be quantified. It is something mysterious to statisticians but clear to the common man: happiness belongs to the spiritual realm.
We think of happiness in terms of financial gain, but there is something wrong in this approach. If happiness is about money, why are Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and so many other billionaire philanthropists eager to give their wealth away?
I believe happiness and leadership are deeply related. They function only through one conduit: Virtue.
A common misconception is that leaders are born, not made; that leadership depends on temperament, the hardware part of our personality. As it usually happens with most lies, there is some truth in this assertion. A person’s temperament will direct his skills and lead him towards a specific aspect of leadership, say a corporate CEO. But every person is called to perfection, to live by the truth, to be a leader in his or her own right. This can’t happen if there is no virtue.
Alexandre Havard, founder of the European Leadership Institute and the Havard Virtue Leadership Institute, says leadership is virtue in action. A true leader is a virtuous person and virtue is, “a good operative habit,” and habits are created by repetition of deeds — repetition of good habits develop into virtue, bad habits into vice.
Who can be a leader? The one who is followed by others because of always commanding what he or she is ready to practice.
Paul von Lettow Vorbeck surrendered to the Allies on November 25, 1918, once the First World War hostilities had ended. This clever bush strategist and his 14,000 men tied up, pinned down, evaded and exasperated an Allied force of 373,000 men for four years. Von Lettow did not pay them. His men were attracted to him and his ways. They believed in him because he never commanded something he himself would not do. A true leader is authentic, humble and magnanimous. Such a person attracts; virtue is always attractive.
Some time ago in a South American country, primary school children were being taught evolution theory. The teacher insisted that human beings descended from monkeys. After class one said: “I don’t believe my parents came from monkeys but from God. One boy said: “Well I’m sure my mother came from God… but my father, probably from monkeys.”
Certainly, this child’s perception of his father was that of a failed leader. A frustrated man is unhappy, no matter how much power and money he accumulates. Family is important. The corporation will lament your loss, place an advertisement seeking your replacement and get done with it. Your family will never replace you.
JACK WELCH, ONE OF THE WORLD’S most successful CEOs ends his book Winning with the words: “I had two marriages, however, that did not work out … but no one lives through two divorces and feels proud that they happened.”
Africa is crying out for true leadership. Something has gone wrong with leadership. The selfish, utilitarian and Machiavellian approaches to leadership have let the world down. Man fulfils himself only in the other, not at the expense of the others. No one is a solitary verse. We are all part of a beautiful poem and each and every man and woman is called to be a leader in his or her own right.
When leadership is not virtuous it is not sustainable; it is a farce leading only to frustration and ultimately, to emotional, spiritual and even physical suicide, like Tony, who is no more. A virtuous life is the only way to happiness; and no amount of money can buy it.
Luis G. Franceschi is chair, Strathmore University Annual Ethics Conference.