The Moral Manager
IT is refreshing to read a book about leadership that puts high stock in individual integrity. Many management books these days are advising their readers on how to manipulate their corporate environment - say, get their boss fired or play politics to move up the executive ladder - or offer some pop, feel-good psychology. Another better class of books provide instructions on formulating company strategy, devising a superior manufacturing system, or other techniques that can be useful to a manager.
But in "Leadership Jazz," Max De Pree, chairman of the board of Herman Miller Inc., a prominent furniture maker, counsels leaders to develop human virtues. "The open demonstration of integrity is essential; followers must be wholeheartedly convinced of their leaders' integrity," he writes. "For leaders, who live a public life, perceptions become a fact of life."
A leader, he continues, should be a servant of those he leads. He quotes one translation of the book of Luke: "The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules, like the one who serves."
The book rambles. It is sometimes repetitive. But it is readable, brightened by anecdotes. And it is short, printed with double spacing so the reader can write between the lines.
De Pree, in describing his ideal leader, is talking of a good, wise person, full of the common sense that sometimes seems uncommon. Here are a few samples of his advice:
* Leaders should practice equity, including giving people the chance to advance in the organization and to reach their potential. "While equity should certainly guide the apportioning of resources, it is far more important in our human relationships."
* Leaders must offer others the opportunity to do their best. "In today's workplace, where the great majority of people are well prepared and thoroughly motivated, individual involvement through an open, participative structure or system of management most often elicits good performance. Every vital organization thrives because it depends more on commitment and enthusiasm than on the letter of the contract."
* An organization expects the leader to define and express the beliefs and values, vision and strategy of the institution both in writing and, especially, behavior. "Leaders who live by rules rather than by principles are no more than dogs in mangers."
* Government regulations dealing with nondiscrimination and affirmative action provide only generalized statements of fair behavior. "We are dealing with the elements of human worth. We are dealing with God's mix, people made in God's image, a compelling mystery. Each of us is part of the same family."
* Leadership requires fairness, not only in a legal sense. "We must take a new look in America at the distribution of results. Capitalism must become inclusive in all regards."
"Ethical leadership withers without justice.... Justice may be the most important quality in the eyes of followers; unjust leaders paralyze their followers.... Thus a primary responsibility for the just leader is to provide a level playing field, so that the game can be played."
One result of that philosophy at Herman Miller Inc. is that the chief executive's cash compensation has been limited to an amount 20 times the average annual pay of a factory worker.
The book includes dozens of other idealistic comments or suggestions, many with an aphoristic flavor. But De Pree's idealism includes a good dose of pragmatism and realism. His company is regularly included on Fortune's list of the most admired companies in the United States.