When a leader has soul
We work with varying types of leaders – in business, parishes, neighborhoods, schools, and professional groups. Some succeed, some slide.
Like a strong business plan, a good leader’s strategy assures attainment of his objectives. It doesn’t mean he seeks to dominate the team, or steal credit for their ideas, or run his ship like a tyrant. He hits the home run when he effectively inspires the group — they want him to succeed, and he mentors them — and his team puts forth whatever it takes. Surprisingly, they’re not envious of his money, stuff, or stature. They love him, and find joy in working with him.
In almost four decades of professional work, I’ve come across very few leaders I’d categorize like that. But one stands out.
In the ad agency business, almost anything goes. They’ve been known to employ ‘creative moral constructs’, shortcuts, deceptions, idea-lifting, and employ any vice to get clients and make big money. Fresh out of college at my first big agency job in the early 80s, I excitedly wrapped an ad-strategy book I’d give at our lunchtime pollyanna at a swank hotel Christmas party that day. They’d have a live big-band, I’d wear my new velvet dress, get up early and fancy my hair and makeup, and catch an earlier morning train into Philadelphia. After ogling over endless tables of ice sculptures, cocktails flowing from multiple bars, disco lighting effects, and designer hors d’oeuvres, it was finally time for the blind gift-exchange. As each staffer’s name was called, he or she was presented a name-labeled gift from a large grab-box holding them all.
I couldn’t make sense of it. A number of senior staffers were unwrapping little bags of what looked like sugar or flour. Did they bake after-hours? Huh?
My supervisor, a middle-aged, very orthodox Jewish man, signaled me over to the lobby door.
“Listen, I know you don’t know what you’re seeing here…but they give ‘substances’ as gifts.” Then he said, “You need to move on from this place. I hate to lose you on the team, but will give you a glowing reference. Just don’t waste your time here anymore.” And he helped me get my next position as a legal writer and researcher.
What I remember most about him was, he put in a full day (almost no one else did), and he won many awards for his terrific work, but the agency wouldn’t promote him. He’d always say just the right – but wrong – thing. He’d blurt out the truth about duplicitous co-workers, crooked clients, invoice- and timesheet gouging, hushed office affairs, ‘situations’ that everyone else accepted.
But he told the truth. And he wore his integrity and faith on his sleeve. He prayed before eating lunch at his desk, and took Jewish holidays off to go to synagogue. He was a gentleman and a devoted dad and husband. He coached me in writing tactics, on making winning business pitches, and approaching media executives.
Much of what I learned about my craft – and owning my integrity – I learned from him. We keep in touch to this day.
CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.