The Secret of Leadership: Do Nothing


I am delighted but not surprised at today’s guest post written by Rick Chambers; it reflects what I know about him well. Rick has been a long-time colleague and friend, and one of the most insightful and generous people on the planet. You will see his fine character shining right through his writing. He’s also a humble leader and will, no doubt, be embarassed at my saying these (true) things about him.

Rick is a director of Worldwide Communications for Pfizer who has worked in the public relations field for more than 22 years. An award winning journalist, he is also a published author and an award-winning short-story writer. Rick is a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan. You can find out more about him on his LinkedIn profile.

Orville was a generous, engaging man, quick with a smile, a firm handshake and a boisterous greeting. I rarely saw him in casual attire and never in a foul mood.

Knowing all this made it much tougher to see him on his deathbed.

On one of my last visits with Orville, I took my teenage son along. As you might imagine, forcing him to give up an hour of video games for an hour with a dying old man did not earn me “Dad of the Year” honors. But along he went, surly attitude and all.

The welcome we received at Orville’s bedside was unexpected. Rather than a weak wave and a gasped “hello,” he nearly came out of his bed. His voice was as strong as ever, his smile just as bright. Within minutes, he had my son sitting on the edge of the bed, hand on his arm, listening to the boy’s hopes and dreams and encouraging their pursuit.

On the drive home, the surliness was gone. My son spoke with enthusiasm about the visit. I sensed, as dads sometimes do, a teaching moment.

“What you did tonight,” I said, “meant the world to a man whose life is ending. And what did it cost you? Nothing.”

I believe that experience offers insight for leaders.

Leadership is many things. It’s visionary. It’s administrative. It’s intellectual. It’s determined. It’s steady-minded. It’s focused. It’s performance-oriented. And on and on.

But what some leaders don’t think about often enough are elements like compassion. And sacrifice. And charity—not in the modern sense, as in writing a check to your local nonprofit, but in its ancient meaning, that of embracing the value of others and basing your life and behavior on it. (The word for “love” in I Corinthians 13, that favored biblical passage at weddings, was originally rendered as “charity.”) In short, it’s about living and behaving with the needs of others lifted above your own.

When a colleague interrupts my work to share a personal concern, what does it cost me to stop and listen? When a co-worker faces job loss, what does it cost me to sympathize and encourage her? When someone down the hall makes a big mistake, what does it cost me to gently point it out, suggest an alternative and accept an honest apology? What does it cost me to treat others as I want to be treated, even in the face of my own flaws and failings?


 So I encourage you, as leaders, to do nothing, too. Watch the profound difference it makes in the lives of others—and in yours.

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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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