There are literally thousands of books and articles written on the most desirable qualities of a leader. They run the gamut from adaptable to zealous. But one quality, above all, is fundamental to anyone who aspires to be a good leader. And this is simply to be a mensch. Whether you are a corporate, entrepreneurial, or political leader, being a mensch is the most important yardstick of great leadership. It is the true measure of any man or woman.
Mensch is a German word meaning human being, or person. In Yiddish, the word mensch has deep connotations. It describes a man or a woman of integrity, a decent person—one who always chooses to do the right thing in all his undertakings. The guiding compass of a leader who is a mensch is "do no harm." We have an innate sense that tells us when we are dealing with a mensch: It's a person who will not try to cheat us, deceive us or undermine us in any way. A mensch is a person in whose presence we feel safe.
Two of the hallmark qualities of a mensch are a disposition to be kind to others and a genuine caring for one's fellow man. A mensch has deep compassion—he understands the suffering of others and seeks to alleviate it. If there is one description that sums up what a mensch is, it is that a mensch doesn't have a pocket-sized heart. To be called a mensch is the greatest compliment one can give you.
In his blog, Guy Kawasaki provides 5 tips on how to be a mensch. Here are a few more:
1. When someone has wronged you, continue to treat them with civility. It's the ultimate mark of a mensch.
2. Give far more than you take. Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” It is the mensch way.
3. Genuinely acknowledge others. Taking the time to give sincere praise shows a generosity of heart. It's high octane fuel for the soul.
4. Default to kindness. The biggest deficit is not monetary—it is the lack of kindness in our interactions with others.
5. Embrace diversity. Every person is a world. The uniqueness of each human being makes our communities a more beautiful place. The legendary Louis Armstrong referred to this as "the colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky, are also on the faces of people going by." See that rainbow.
The Roman philosopher Seneca said, "Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness." Every day of our lives, we have an opportunity to show up as a mensch. Perhaps this is the most important resolution for the New Year for us all.
Bruna Martinuzzi is the author of The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.
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