'Leadership Is An Art' should be required reading


November 08, 1993|By LESTER A. PICKER

A column in yesterday's business section referred incorrectly to furniture maker Herman Miller Inc. as Henry Miller Inc.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Several times a month, a professional book comes across my desk, sent by publishers on the odd chance that I may have enough time for a thoughtful review.

Most are outstandingly unimpressive, in my opinion. They rehash old management concepts, or brazenly hawk some "new" fund-raising concepts that have been used successfully by practitioners for decades.


Maybe three or four times a year I read a book that I'm eager to share with readers, one I can recommend with joy. Here is one shining example.

"Leadership Is An Art" by Max DePree (Dell Publishing, $10.00), is a tiny jewel of a work by one of America's foremost spokesmen for business ethics and quality management. DePree is no theorist. He is the successful, hands-on CEO of Henry Miller Inc., one of the top furniture makers in the United States and consistently listed in the 100 Best Companies to Work for in America. And, no wonder. Read the first few chapters and you, too, will want to work for -- or rather, with -- DePree.

DePree's book is equally applicable to the for-profit and nonprofit environments. But, first a word of warning -- make sure to have a highlighter or pen available as you read. My copy is already so highlighted, underlined and dog-eared it looks as if I've owned it for years.

Rather than give how-to-do-it recipes, "Leadership Is An Art" provides the reader with a philosophical overview that is so profound, so compelling, it should be required reading for every nonprofit CEO. As an example, DePree discusses a leader's obligation to encourage diversity within the workplace. "When we think about . . . the variety of gifts people bring to corporations and institutions, we see that the art of leadership lies in polishing and liberating and enabling those gifts." Not surprisingly, Henry Miller has won widespread recognition for its diverse work force and its pioneering hiring of the disabled.

DePree discusses the responsibilities of leaders and their role in the process of change. His thoughts on participative management, corporate culture, the rights of workers, and the workplace as an extension of home and family break new ground in their simplicity and rightness.

"Work should be and can be productive and rewarding, meaningful and maturing, enriching and fulfilling, healing and joyful. Work is one of our greatest privileges," he says.

DePree is a proponent of the leader as steward of the change process, a concept receiving significant attention today as organizations redefine themselves. DePree believes that a true leader has obligations to the organization and its people when they are engaged in the change process.

"The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant." DePree says reality is defined in the context of a changing marketplace. For nonprofits this is not easily done, since there is no bottom line profit motive driving the need to change.

Next, he says, a leader's job is to clearly state the values of the organization to all its people, then defend those values in the face of change. Given recent scandals involving the values systems of some nonprofits, this charge to nonprofit leaders takes on added meaning.

Leaders must nurture new leadership. DePree says that involves encouraging contrary opinions and championing those that reinforce a positive corporate culture.

While DePree covers many other aspects of effective leadership, he spends a good deal of time in this gem of a book explaining how leaders must encourage covenantal relationships in the workplace. These relationships go far beyond the contractual aspects of the work environment and help to create an organization that is caring and committed to developing its people to their fullest potential.

As DePree himself sums up his chapter defining leadership, ". . . to be a leader means, especially, having the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who permit leaders to lead."

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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