Not every boss is a true leader

September 29, 2013
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By Jasbir T. Singh |

At home I'm a husband and a father, and at the office I'm a worker-bee specialized in a specific audit management software tool designed to help internal auditors and risk managers manage their work. I spend much of my time configuring the tool to meet business needs, and delivering individual and group training sessions. I like my job and I like my boss, and have been at it for four years now.

Recently, my bossed asked me to cover for him while he was away for a few months. I had a taste of what it was like being responsible for all deliverables produced by the team, reviewing everyone's time sheets, reporting to the director, and presenting the capabilities of our team to the new chief. It was a different job, that's for sure, and although it was short in duration, I liked it. It sparked my interest in the area of leadership.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a friend from church, who informed me that Alexandre Havard would be visiting Ottawa to give a talk on virtuous leadership. Unfortunately I missed his talk, but thanks to the Internet, I found a public lecture he gave at Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya on July 17, 2013. See more of his talks at the Havard Virtuous Leadership Institute.

After listening to Havard's lecture, I now have a much greater understanding about what leadership really means. According to Havard,
Leadership is about achieving greatness by bringing out greatness in others.
Havard says that universities today are only focused on transmitting technical information to students rather than truly educating them and bringing out the best in them. There is no development of character or virtue, which makes up 90% of the best leaders. The remaining 10% is only technical knowledge, and that's all that universities are providing students today.

Recognizing this gap in the university system, Havard decided to learn from great leaders.

The best example of leadership that he found was by talking with Francois Michelin, the leader of Michelin Tires in central France. Michelin provided the example of his grandfather, Edouard Michelin, who founded the company in 1888. He described how his grandfather was upset when he learned that a new employee who loved tires was placed in the printing room because he had no formal education after the age of fifteen. The employee's name was Marius Mignol. Michelin insisted that Mignol be placed in sales for a while to "break the man", and to find out who he really was. His lack of education was not a concern.

Lacking in math skills, Mignol invented a type of ruler to help him calculate currency conversions in order to do his job. When Michelin saw the ruler, he knew he had discovered a genius. Mignol was immediately sent to the research department to solve the overheating problem in tires. He worked independently from the mathematicians and physicists on staff, and in 1946 he single handedly invented the radial tire that we still use today.

Havard describes Edouard Michelin as not just a good person living the four cardinal virtues (prudence, self control, courage, and justice), but a person who possessed the human virtues of magnanimity and humility. If leadership is about achieving greatness, then this greatness comes from the capacity to dream big and to set high goals for oneself and for others. A magnanimous leader is one who knows his vocation and his mission in life, and feels responsible to do something about it. A call to action if you will. Small minded people on the other hand don't see or don't feel responsible to act on their talents.

The practice of humility, the second virtue that great leaders possess, means that the person is capable of recognizing and speaking of his/her talents without pride. This is only possible when one sees their talents as being gifts from God. Humility also means serving others in helping them to discover their own talents and achieving their best. In this way a person can be a "magnificent servant" rather than just being a boss. Edouard Michelin was a father figure to Mignol. He gave him a chance to discover his own talents, and Mignol surprised everyone. Together, they achieved greatness.

According to Havard a lot of leaders haven't even heard of magnanimity, and he thinks it's a big problem. The solution is to find a way to enlarge the hearts of leaders. Perhaps by spending time with magnanimous people and learning how they think and dream, how they set high goals, have vision, how they desire talent, and how they give off an aura of hope. These leaders can make you feel that you are called to more than just what you are doing now. They can be found in literature, in movies, in books, and even in music. They tend not to be found at school, and they are not our parents. Magnanimous people choose their environment, and they practice freedom. They are selective in what they read and watch, and they have the self-discipline to foster magnanimity.


  • Catholic Answers Focus, June 19, 2015

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