Words to Live By
I had the privilege of spending part of my youth in the Boy Scouts of America (way back before all the controversies surrounding that organization). I can still “rattle off” the Scout Law, Motto, and Oath. They were committed to memory as well as spoken out loud very frequently. I learned some beneficial things - how to “properly” set the table, for example (a critical skill as far as my wife is concerned!). I also learned how to be self-sufficient, to respect other people. I learned to tell “the truth.” I believe that my experience in the Boy Scouts was such that it laid a strong foundation for being a “good person” and a good leader. I know that the organization is
changing (of necessity) and that some people had a different experience. I now speak only of my own experience.
I got started thinking about all this when I received yet another one of those maddening emails that claimed a particular well known and respected “hero” was supporting a particular presidential candidate. The details don’t matter. What matters is this email didn’t ring true to me. So I took all of thirty seconds to type in a question on Google Search and immediately found that the email was—yep—a hoax.
I won’t bore you with the convoluted way my mind works. Let’s start with—I, of course, started thinking about leadership, taking responsibility, and holding myself accountable. How does passing along misinformation (or misleading information) fit with leadership? What are the foundations of leadership? For me, part of that foundation was what I learned through the Boy Scouts of America.
For example, I, and the many other leaders with whom I work, strive to be trustworthy. To the issue at hand, I don’t want to pass along things that aren’t true knowingly. As I said to the sender of that email, I believe people are entitled to their opinions, but they are NOT entitled to their own facts, to paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan. More than that, of course, I don’t believe that any significant interpersonal transactions (or business transactions) will take place without trust. That’s the practical application of being trustworthy.
“The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, ‘My country, right or wrong.’ In one sense, I say so too. My country—and my country is the great American Republic—my country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”
Then there is loyalty. I am no longer just loyal because a person in authority says I should be. To me, that smacks of being UN-trustworthy. I am loyal to people and organizations who earn and continue to earn my loyalty. You don’t get it by default. Very few organizations earn my loyalty. And the people or organizations who do earn my loyalty get what I think of as enlightened loyalty, not blind allegiance.
“Really big people are, above everything else, courteous, considerate and generous — not just to some people in some circumstances—but to everyone all the time.”
Great people, great leaders are helpful, friendly, courteous, and kind. I believe they are generally optimistic and cheerful. Of course, real leaders are brave and willing to make tough decisions, have “carefrontational” conversations. And the ones I’ve met in my line of work are clean both in personal hygiene and ethically. Of course, they are morally clean because they are trustworthy. When it comes to organizational leaders, they are also thrifty—especially with other people’s money.
That leaves reverent and obedient. I left those for last because I have personalized them the most. Here’s where I am on the reverent part. In the context of religion, I will always support your right to worship, privately, in your fashion. I firmly believe in the “separation of Church and State.” Yet “reverent” has come to mean much more to me than religion. As a leader, it has come to represent my reverence for nature and the need to protect the one earth we have. In other words, the Outdoor Code (see above link to Boy Scouts of America) is more important to me at this point in my life. THAT I believe is to be put in the public square. As leaders, especially as business leaders, we must do more to mitigate our impact on this planet. I understand that this, for the moment, is a controversial stand; I’m taking it.
Respect the Law
Here’s where I am on the obedience thing. Obey the law. It is our obligation to society. We must accept the rule of law. However, as Schurz so eloquently pointed out, if wrong, set the law right—do so correctly, within the process. Trustworthy means not using our might and wealth to change the laws and regulations to be only in our favor, only to enrich the shareholders.
Nowhere in the Boy Scout Oath, Law, or Motto does it say we must win at all costs. Nowhere does it say that we should manipulate the rules to be to our advantage and squash the competition. Nowhere does it say we should treat people like machines. As leaders, we must make sure we are willing to consider the commonwealth in our actions.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line on all this is that I can still mostly live with the things I learned in the Scouts. They serve me well. However, of all the things I cherish most, it is the one first word from the Boy Scout Law —Trustworthy. The next most important thing, to me, is the Boy Scout Motto — Be Prepared. It’s hard to see how teaching our young people about the precepts contained in the Boy Scout Law, Motto, Oath (as long as we leave room for atheists), Slogan, and Outdoor Code would not make this a better world.
Finally, to get back to what started all this, for those of us who still tend to do so, please STOP passing along, self-serving, bias confirming, un-validated, foolish emails! To do so destroys our trustworthiness. I think that will be my New Year’s Resolution—redouble my effort to be authentically Trustworthy, do a good deed daily, be prepared, and to be a good steward of this earth.
[Lightly edited on 9/2020 for our new website.]