SEVEN! The Contrarian Traits Required of the Greater Good Leader

By J. William DeMarco

John Maxwell notes… “leadership is influence.”  In order to influence, we all need relationships, as such leadership is hugely relational.  I could be way off base on this but this has been my observation through a myriad of leadership positions.  Do I have it right, no…I’m just trying to get better.  In that quest it would seem that the following seven counterintuitive or even contrarian traits ensure successful leadership in any venture.

I have blogged before on the theory of greater good vs personal power leaders.  The greater good is doing just that… looking to enhance the greater good of the company or organization.  Whereas the personal power leader seeks power only to enhance his own standing…be it in prestige, money, ego, or simply a better office with a better view and more perks.

Each of the seven traits express themselves in relationships. A significant measure of our greater good leadership life is found simply in how we treat people and the quality of our relationships with them.

William Barclay states “It is most significant to note that every one of the [traits] listed has to do with personal relationships between man and man. There is no mention of [traits] like efficiency or cleverness, not even of diligence or industry – not that these things are unimportant. But the great basic [traits] are those which govern human relationships.”

1: Compassion is the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others. It is regarded as a fundamental part of human love, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism —foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood.

Compassion is often regarded as emotional in nature, and there is an aspect of compassion which regards a quantitative dimension, such that individual’s compassion is often given a property of “depth,” “vigour,” or “passion.”  In ethical terms, the various expressions down the ages of the so-called Golden Rule embody by implication the principle of compassion: Do to others what you would have them do to you.  As a Greater Good Leader our challenge is to forsake our own desires at times and act compassionately towards others.

2: Kindness:  Ancient Greek writers defined chrestotes (khray-stot-ace) as the virtue of the man whose neighbor’s well being is as dear to him as his own. . . . a kindness metaphor often used is of wine which has grown mellow with age and lost its harshness.  Kindness does not necessarily equate to being nice. One can be kind and not nice. Nice is defined by as being agreeable. In contrast, kindness is acting for the good of people regardless of what they do. This sounds so easy but can be extremely difficult, but is a demanding requirement for the Greater Good Leader.

Kindness is goodness in action, sweetness of disposition, gentleness in dealing with others, benevolence, kindness, affability. The word describes the ability to act for the welfare of those taxing your patience.

One scholar has noted that when the word chrestotes is applied to interpersonal relationships, it conveys the idea of being adaptable to others. Rather than harshly require everyone else to adapt to your own needs and desires, when chrestotes is working in a leader, he seeks to become adaptable to the needs of those who are around him.

Kindness is doing something and not expecting anything in return. Kindness is respect and helping others without waiting for someone to help one back. It implies kindness no matter what.

3: Humility is viewed in the negative by many.  Humility is “A quality by which a person considering his own defects has a humble opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to others for sake [of the greater good].”  Examples of humility include:

  1. Submitting to legitimate authority
  2. Recognizing virtues and talents that others possess, particularly those that surpass one’s own, and giving due honor and, when required, obedience
  3. Recognizing the limits of one’s talents, ability, or authority; and, not reaching for what is beyond one’s grasp

As illustrated in the person of Moses, who leads the nation of Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and to the “Promised Land”, humility is a sign of strength and purpose, not weakness.

Recent research suggests that humility is a quality of certain types of leaders. For example, Jim Collins and his colleagues found that a certain type of leader, whom they term “level 5”, possesses humility and fierce resolve. Humility is being studied as a contrarian trait that can enhance a Greater Good Leader’s effectiveness. The research suggests that humility is multi-dimensional and includes self-understanding and awareness, openness, and perspective taking.

4: Gentleness or commonly known as meekness, which is “a divinely-balanced virtue that can only operate through faith. The New Spirit Filled Life Bible has perhaps the best definition “a disposition that is even-tempered, tranquil, balanced in spirit, unpretentious, and that has the passions under control. The word is best translated ‘meekness,’ not as an indication of weakness, but of power and strength under control. The person who possesses this quality pardons injuries, corrects faults, and rules his own spirit well.

5: Patience is the state of endurance under difficult circumstances, which can mean persevering in the face of delay or provocation without acting on annoyance/anger in a negative way; or exhibiting forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties. Patience is the level of endurance one can take before negativity. It is also used to refer to the character trait of being steadfast.

Friedrich Nietzsche argued that “being able to wait is so hard that the greatest poets did not disdain to make the inability to wait the theme of their poetry.” He notes that “Passion will not wait”,

6: Forgiveness: Believe it or not…we will all make mistakes, me…probably more than most and I have been blessed with leaders that are very quick to forgive. A definition for forgiveness could be — giving up your right to hurt someone, for hurting you. It is impossible to exist without getting hurt, offended, misunderstood, lied to, and rejected. Learning how to respond properly is one of the basics of the life and leadership.

The word “forgive” means, to pardon, to cancel a debt. When we wrong someone, we seek his or her forgiveness in order for the relationship to be restored. It is important to remember that forgiveness is not granted because a person deserves to be forgiven. Instead, it is an act of love, mercy, and grace. As a leader, many times this requires stepping out of a “comfort zone” and looking toward the needs of the organization and the greater good.  It also means examining one’s motives when the issue occurred.  There are times the violator will face consequences for his action, but can still be forgiven.

How we act toward that person may change. It doesn’t mean we will put ourselves back into a harmful situation or that we suddenly accept or approve of the person’s continued wrong behavior. It simply means we release them from the wrong they committed against us.

Charles Spurgeon notes “Suppose that someone had grievously offended any one of you, and that he asked your forgiveness, do you not think that you would probably say to him, ‘Well, yes, I forgive you; but I cannot forget it’? Ah! dear friends, that is a sort of forgiveness with one leg chopped off, it is a lame forgiveness, and is not worth much.”

7: Love brings it all together.  Now I hear you… love… really?  Let’s look at that from a leaders perspective.  If you have ever truly lead for the greater good… you have felt the love for the people you lead.  The caring, the concern, the sleepless nights prior to big decision where these people’s lives were impacted… that is love.

Agape denotes an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable goodwill that always seeks the highest of the other, no matter what he/she does. It is the self-giving love that gives freely without asking anything in return, and does not consider the worth of its object. Agape is more a love by choice than philos, which is love by chance; and it refers to the will rather than the emotion. Agape describes the unconditional love God has for the world. Agape is sacrificial, does not display itself haughtily. It is not conceited; it is not rude and does not act unbecomingly. Love does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it. It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes do not fade under any circumstances, and it endures everything without weakening. Love never becomes obsolete or comes to an end. Love never fails.

Now, imagine leadership like that?  As a leader…you would be unstoppable!

1) Compassion
2) Kindness
3) Humility
4) Gentleness
5) Patience
6) Forgiveness
7) Love

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