In 2004, I was invited to the Leadership Forum 2004 for Leaders of Tomorrow to contribute my point of view on three questions and participate in a conversation on ethical leadership in today’s business world. The three questions were
What does leadership mean to me?
What are my leadership strengths and challenges?
And how can I use leadership to be successful in my life?
The Leaders of Tomorrow Leadership Forum was created to give final year post-secondary students in Greater Vancouver an understanding of contemporary leadership and leadership ethics through conversation with community leaders. This was my contribution to the conversation.
So, what does leadership mean to me?
I think leadership should be a verb. Something we do. But it isn’t. It’s a noun. We exercise leadership. We provide leadership. We take leadership. We give leadership. It seems to cry out for an adjective. Good leadership.
So, what is leadership?
I think leadership is a responsibility. I think taking leadership is taking personal responsibility for the interests of others. I think leadership is a social responsibility. I think leadership is something we can choose to exercise. I think exercising leadership is something we can learn to do. I think good leadership works in our interests.
So, what does taking personal responsibility for the interests of others mean?
To me, taking personal responsibility for the interests of others means operating with integrity. Operating with integrity means treating people honestly and fairly and doing what we said we would do and being who we say we are.
Most of us would agree that stealing is not operating with integrity. I think taking something from others dishonestly or unfairly is stealing. Based on the conversations going on these days, I am not alone.
But taking responsibility for the interests of others goes beyond operating with integrity. It’s more than doing what we said we would do. It is taking responsibility for doing the right things – for doing the things that contribute to the interests of others. It is operating beyond integrity.
But why take responsibility for the interests of others? How does this relate to my interests?
What are my interests?
I am interested in feeling good. I am interested in improving the way I live my life. I am interested in being successful in pursuing my interests. I am interested in ideas that work. I am interested in ideas that contribute to creating successful enterprise. I am interested in ideas that contribute to our common interests.
So how do these ideas about leadership work to create successful enterprise?
Whether for profit, not-for-profit, public, or personal, enterprises serve someone’s interests. I think enterprise managers can be more successful in serving the interests of their enterprise when they become the custodians of and take responsibility for the interests of the people served by their enterprise, engaged in their enterprise, and impacted by their enterprise.
This means operating with integrity and demonstrating we care about the interests of others in what we do and how we do things.
Why does this work?
Because operating with integrity creates trust. And demonstrating we care about the interests of others creates relationships. Relationships are built on trust and caring. And creating successful relationships is how we create successful enterprise.
These same ideas contribute to our individual interests in becoming more successful in our personal enterprise.
How leaders can become more successful in getting others to operate with integrity and take personal responsibility for the interests of the enterprise is another conversation.
Why do I think these ideas work in our common interests?
Today we tend to celebrate money, power and celebrity. To create a better tomorrow, I think we need to celebrate integrity, contribution, and creativity. This is leadership. Creating this change will take leadership.
It will take leadership to demonstrate how operating with integrity, caring for and contributing to the interests of others, and continually creating better ways of doing things contributes to our individual and common interests.
It will take leadership that inspires and rewards people who take personal responsibility for the interests of others.
It will take leaders who take responsibility for our common public interests as well as the interests of the people they serve directly.
It will take leaders to excite leadership in others.
What do I think about the issue of ethical leadership?
I think good leaders who sincerely care about the interests of others are able to find their moral compass. I think most of us know intuitively what is good and what is not so good. I think this is a better way of finding our moral compass than thinking about good and bad, or right and wrong. That can get us into trouble. There are no absolutes. Every choice has a context and there are often many conflicting interests to consider.
When we are faced with a dilemma, an uncomfortable decision, it helps to identify the interests we really care about. If we really care about the interests of others, we will find the choice that works best. I find there are always three choices. If I can’t see the third choice, I look for it. It is often the one that works best.
I define leadership as taking personal responsibility for the interests of others.
I define an entrepreneur as someone who continuously strives to become more successful in pursuing their personal interests.
I define a socially responsible entrepreneur as someone who takes personal responsibility for the interests of others in the pursuit of their personal interests.
I define a social entrepreneur as someone whose entrepreneurial interests contribute to our common social interests.
I define free enterprise as giving people the freedom to take personal responsibility, exercise personal leadership, and pursue personal excellence. Operating beyond integrity excites interest and encourages these pursuits.
I define people who manage the behavior of others in their personal interests as tyrants.
I define people who manage the behavior of others in the common interests of their enterprise as managers.
I define people who give others the responsibility and help them become more successful in contributing to the interests of others as leaders.
I think people who exercise power are managers.
I think people who give power are leaders.
So, how do all these ideas work to improve the way I live my life?
Living with integrity and caring about the interests of others makes me feel good. Improving how others experience life improves my experience of life. And giving pleasure to others, contributing to their interests and inspiring them to do well gives me pleasure, and gives me value.
What are my leadership strengths and challenges?
I think my strengths lie in my ideas about leadership. I think my challenges are to demonstrate to myself that I can live these ideas.
How can I use these ideas to be successful in my life?
I can live these ideas. They guide me in choosing what I do and how I do things. They guide me through changing circumstances. They guide me as new experiences and new opportunities present themselves.
I set my own standards. I live for my own approval. I take risks to do better, to be better, to live better. I create my own enterprise.
I pursue my own interests in living life well; in creating joy for the people I care about; and in creating a better life and a better world for the people who look to me to care.
I am interested in our leaders of tomorrow. I am interested in seeing our leaders of tomorrow operate beyond integrity. I am interested in seeing our leaders of tomorrow exercise, provide, take, and give leadership that serves our common interests.
Operating with integrity is caring who we are. Operating beyond integrity is caring who others are.
I think these ideas, put into practice, could make us all feel more optimistic about tomorrow.
My ideas today
Our leaders of tomorrow are creative leaders. Our leaders of tomorrow are leaders of communities without borders. Our leaders of tomorrow are the custodians of the interests of the communities contributing to our common human interests and our common human enterprise.
Our leaders of tomorrow see we are all equal, see we are all different, and see that our differences are how we learn from one another, how we create with one another, and how we create possibilities for our evolution and our future as a community.
Our leaders of tomorrow are the custodians of the stories we are creating, the stories we are creating connections with, exciting creative connections with, and exciting creative community enterprise around.
Our leaders of tomorrow need no approval to excite creative contribution, creative enterprise, and creative entrepreneurship to create the possibilities we imagine for ourselves, for one another, and for our community without borders.
Our leaders of tomorrow are creative leaders exciting creative leadership, creative entrepreneurship, and creative contribution to creating a better tomorrow for our world.
The ideas that define how we see things, are the ideas that lead our behaviour and guide our choices. The ideas that define how we see things could be, are the ideas that can lead the behavior and guide the choices of others.