Jeff Bezos will unlikely get nominated to be a saint, given the recent article. Some think he is just like an entrepreneur while others disagree.
Jeff Bezos is not alone. Look back a few years and Jack Welch was called “Neutron Jack” for eliminating the bottom 10% each year.
The hard-charging, hard-nosed leaders can be rattled off without too much effort. Now, list the names of leaders who would be classified as a saint. Identifying the saintly leaders gets more challenging.
Can effective leaders be saints? An interesting question.
What Does It Take to Be a Saint?
There may be different ways to identify someone as a saint, but the Catholic Church has a distinct process. In a For Dummies article, the criteria to recognize a saint is clear. Leadership sainthood would include:
1 – Being Identified as a Servant
Servant leadership is a mindset of serve first. Servant leadership is more than just thinking about serving. It is the actual act of serving. The first step to being a leader-as-saint is to serve others first. Self-centered, ego-centric leaders need not apply.
2 – Being Venerable
Being venerable is leading a life of heroic virtue. Perfection is not the goal. Always working to improve skills and capabilities is the goal. Never giving up in this endeavor is a motivating force of this goal.
Chris Lowney in his book, Heroic Leadership, outlines four pillars: self-awareness, ingenuity, love, and heroism (above and beyond). Chris states:
“That’s love-driven leadership: the vision to see each person’s talent, potential, and dignity; the courage, passion, and commitment to unlock that potential; and the resulting loyalty and mutual support that energize and unite teams.”
Venerability is a tough standard, and one worthy of every leader to undertake with persistence.
3 – Being Blessed by Higher Authority
No certification program exists for being a leader-as-saint. Being a B Corp may be close. What is a B Corp?
“B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.”
In many ways, this is ideal. After all, leader-as-saint may be best judged by the organizational culture and type of business built. B Corps are certified on a triple bottom line: profit, people, and planet. The three can co-exist, and B Corps are showing the way. B Corp certifications can be the higher authority.
Also, in this step, people expect miracles from the leader-as-saint. Getting profit, people, and planet right may be a miracle by itself. Getting the B Corp certification may qualify.
4 – Recognized as a Saint
The final step is being recognized as a saint. One more miracle needs to be done, and then leadership sainthood is a reality. The other miracle can be what the leader does in their community. Doing good needs to extend outside the four walls of a business. Leader-as-saint makes a positive impact. The mark of this miracle will be the number of lives empowered within a community.
Leader-as-Saint – Is It Possible?
The short answer is yes. However, there are many distractions. Leaders get side-tracked often by a short-term outlook, fixed mindset, poor relationships, imbalance of efficiency and effectiveness, inappropriate choices, and ego.
Distractions are many, so clarity of mission, values, leadership philosophy, and accountability are essential.
Repentance can be a start for some. Although these are not direct apologies, both Jeff Bezos and Jack Welch express some concerns and change of heart.
“The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day.” Jeff Bezos
“As for employees with good values but mediocre numbers — the stance should be, we’ll give you another chance with more coaching. Your behavior has earned you that.” Jack and Suzy Welch
Well, maybe not ready for leadership sainthood yet. Recognizing what you do not recognize as being a good culture is the first step, as are recognizing good behaviors. Self-awareness and love are two of the heroic virtues.
Sainthood does not mean you never sinned. It means you serve first and lead with all heroic values. A few positive miracles help as well.
The question remains: Can a leader be a saint?
I believe it is possible with purposeful, consistent effort and a strong growth mindset and a big dash of compassion and empathy. Easy? No.
No one said good leadership would be easy. Less harm is done when more leaders pursue the virtues of being a saint.
How about you? Can a leader be a saint?
Join the Conversation
Can a Leader Be a Saint?
Jon – I’m with Alli. I would have said no, until I read your article.
Yes a leader can serve, yes a leader can love, yes a leader can mine for an unleash passion and potential, yes a leader can hit a triple bottom-line at work, and yes a leader can care and invest outside of the walls of their defined workplace!
I agree, Chery, and leaders need to take the effort. Leaders at Kickstarter have shown how while leaders at VW have shown what not to do. More work to do but it is a necessary type of work. Thank you! Jon
When I saw your title my first reaction was NO! Sainthood takes perfection and leaders are human. However, I believe that the aspiration that you’ve laid out here is a game changer. Maybe we falter but consistently keeping these values top of mind will change not only our way of doing but also our way of being.
Also, thanks for sharing Chris Lowney’s definition of love-driven leadership – absolutely fantastic.
Alli, Thank you! Appreciate your feedback. I agree. We need to focus on the “saintly” process. Although we may never be saints, we will be much further along.
If you haven’t read Herioic Leadership, it has some thought-provoking ideas. Thanks again! Jon
I enjoyed this take on the Amazon question (and I shared it on a friend’s blog as an addition to her take). Six years ago (six years ago??!!), I had a blog opportunity to review Suzy Welch’s book 10/10/10 — which is something I always think about when I see her name! http://biggreenpen.com/2009/04/24/its-a-new-verb-lets-10-10-10-that/
Thank you, Paula! Really like the 10/10/10 principle. It serves as a quick reminder to make better decisions while also thinking about longer term direction. Thank you for your perspective and also the added link to your insights on Suzy’s book. Thanks! Jon