I have a good friend, a fine man, and Harvard MBA. He has served at a high level in financial services organizations, written a fine book on businesslike philanthropy, and has been a force for the good in organizing philanthropic networks. His current focus is on leadership. He has called me a couple of times to discuss my leadership. I find myself feeling very uncomfortable with the topic and my own emotions about it. To be called a leader or deemed worthy of being coached as a leader by a highly qualified and well-regarded professional leadership coach, is very flattering - and that is why I distrust it. If I at my age, knowing better, straighten up, smile into the mirror, and adjust my tie, when addressed as a leader, how much more dangerous would it be for a straight A student, a never-has-failed-at-anything child of the American success mill to be addressed by revered business professors, within a hallowed business school, as a leader and future decider? Such conversations of leader to be and leadership expert are (potentially) mutually corrupting. Either flatters the other, in the tradition of the emperors and their tailors.
What we are asking of the new social entrepreneurs is the moral balance to weigh (without much external accountability or checks and balances) their own personal gain, the benefits to other employees, the benefits to investors, and the benefits to society. Such wisdom and character, such resistance to temptation and the delusions that undergird self serving choices is beyond the reach of our frail human nature. No one on this earth has ever had such character. (Jesus flunked the wordly leadership test on the Mount, but he was not an American with high SATs.) The history of literature, let alone history itself, is the record of our insufficiency as frail human clay to such godlike tasks. Those called leaders are at best wounded healers, blind guides, solemn and humorless fools.
When my good friend offers to help me in my leadership, I experience this as a temptation to take myself seriously. That would, for a world class fool, be fatal - career suicide. "Hold the crown," saith the fool, "it is cap and bells for me. On you, though, Boss, that new suit looks great." When business school graduates are offended by my critique, as they seem sometimes to be, when they feel it is somehow an affront to their dignity, as leaders, or leaders to be, I do not think that shows me to be wrong, in diagnosing pride, only a sorry failure as a Fool. If I were better at my noble trade, I would cure them with the only medicine that works, laughter at ourselves, including me, if not thee. Why then, in b-school are the true fools afraid to claim their proper place, as leaders of the leaders' leaders? It is time we Fools came out of hiding. Seldom since Rome fell have our services been needed more.