Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership

Chief Dan Jones, Chapel Hill, NC

1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway!
2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway!
3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway!
4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway!
5. Honesty and frankness makes you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway!
6. The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest minds. Think big anyway!
7. People favor underdogs, but follow top dogs. Fight for the underdogs anyway!
8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway!
9. People really need help, but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway!
10. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway!
     It is always good to be reminded of what we were given as students and mentee’s. This comes at an opportune time in my life to clarify focus, create drive and provide sound direction to my future. I was raised on these commandments of leadership by my mentors, some of the greatest fire service individuals to ever exist. Ironically, I was searching for something else in the office when I ran across an old text book that I utilized when going through the International Society of Fire Service Instructors’ (ISFSI) Company of Development (CODe) Series many years ago. One of the authors of the book ended up being my Fire Chief and Mentor, Dan Jones. The book “Managing People” happened to fall to the floor in my search and opened up to page 32 where the Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership was located.
     Over the past year I have been in many discussions with friends and colleagues across North America about issues that we face daily in the fire service and the many frustrations leaders are having. It often times gets to the point of being somewhat depressing as the future holds so many uncertainties. I know I have had friends with 25 plus years experience layoffs, we see stations closing, training centers shut down and good leaders cut off at the knees by ram-rod political events.
     I believe the book falling open to the page with Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership is one of those events that occur that makes you say…Ok I get it! My frustration with the fire service is like riding a roller coaster. Many issues affect my emotions as I often am finding myself disheartened with the events that have reoccurrence in our business.
     The Paradoxical Commandments were written by Kent Keith in 1968, when he was 19, a sophomore at Harvard College. They were part of The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council, his first booklet for high school student leaders. Here is how it all came about.
     As a senior at Roosevelt High School in Honolulu, Kent was heavily involved in student government. He was student body president and also president of the Honolulu High School Association. He was excited about the challenges of leadership and good leadership techniques.

Kent keith in 1969

     Because Hawaii did not have a student council leadership workshop to train student council leaders, Kent founded the Hawaii Student Leadership Institute, which held its first session in the summer of 1966. This was the first leadership workshop for high school student leaders that was founded and run entirely by high school students.
     Kent went on to attend Harvard. During his four years as an undergraduate there, he gave more than 150 speeches at high schools, student leadership workshops, and state student council conventions in eight states. These were the turbulent sixties, when student activists were seizing buildings, throwing rocks at police, and shouting down opponents. Kent provided an alternative voice. In his public speaking, Kent encouraged students to care about others, and to work through the system to achieve change. One thing he learned was students didn’t know how to work through the system to bring about change. Some of them also tended to give up quickly when they faced difficulties or failures. They needed deeper, longer-lasting reasons to keep trying.
     “I saw a lot of idealistic young people go out into the world to do what they thought was right, and    good, and true, only to come back a short time later, discouraged, or embittered, because they got negative feedback, or nobody appreciated them, or they failed to get the results they had hoped for.” recalls Keith. “I told them that if they were going to change the world, they had to really love people, and if they did, that love would sustain them. I also told them that they couldn’t be in it for fame or glory. I said that if they did what was right and good and true, they would find meaning and satisfaction, and that meaning and satisfaction would be enough. If they had the meaning, they didn’t need the glory.”

      In his sophomore year at Harvard, Kent began writing a booklet for high school student leaders that addressed both the how and the why of leading change. The booklet was titled The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council, and it was published by Harvard Student Agencies in 1968. The Paradoxical Commandments were part of Chapter Two, entitled “Brotherly What?”

     “I laid down the Paradoxical Commandments as a challenge,” Keith said. “The challenge is to always do what is right and good and true, even if others don’t appreciate it. You have to keep striving, no matter what, because if you don’t, many of the things that need to be done in our world will never get done.”

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