“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Greatness” is one of the terms that have become essentially useless because their meaning depends almost entirely on the person who defines them. So I was curious to share what David Lapin has to say about those who “lead by greatness.” They are great leaders who make their organizations great. OK. “In this book, I set out to demonstrate the correlation between the greatness of human character and business results” other than those financial in nature. OK.
Lapin organizes his material within three Parts: First, he shares what he has learned about how to change one’s self, to improve one’s self, to develop one’s values that, “at the deepest levels,” determine the decisions we make. Next, he explains how to have beneficial impact on others, helping them to complete the self self-fulfillment process. Then in Part Three, he shifts his attention to explaining how to widen and deepen the impact of a person’s character (i.e. values, decisions, behavior) on community, society, and even generations to come.
According to Lapin, great leaders must become (i.e. develop certain character traits of greatness such as the eight that he suggests) before they can do (e.g. attract followers, pursue a shared vision, achieve common goals). I agree. He seems convinced that almost anyone can become capable of leading by greatness. In theory, I agree. However, I am among those who have become convinced that leadership greatness as Lapin defines it is very rare. I agree with Lao Tzu who observes in Tao Te Ching:
“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”
One of this book’s greatest strengths (among many) is Lapin’s clear and consistent focus on the importance to each person of completing a journey of personal discovery. Its purpose is to reveal all manner of potentialities but also to clarify – indeed affirm – certain values such as authenticity, humility, and generosity, three values that are also central to the leadership Lao Tzu celebrates in the passage cited. Lapin immediately establishes and then sustains a direct, personal rapport with his reader. Many will feel as I did that he wrote book specifically for them. They will never be alone during their often difficult and sometimes perilous journey of personal discovery.
I presume to share one final point. With all due respect to the importance of great leaders, the more compelling need – in my opinion — is for sufficient numbers of principled people whose lives are purpose-driven, who “follow by greatness.” Without them, the achievements of those whom we now view as great leaders would not have been possible.