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Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

“Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership,”
by Kent Keith

“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 make 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 only top dogs. Fight for a few 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.

“Keith wrote these when he was a 19-year-old Harvard sophomore, in a booklet for high school leaders. This was 1968, when students were organizing everywhere. In the three decades since, the commandments have been drawn upon by everyone from Mother Theresa to Superman.

I also really like the context set out before and after the rules. Here’s the setup before…

“[The rules] assume that you care. I mean, really. Not just because it’s fashionable to appear concerned for those who are “less fortunate.” Not because you know that pretending to care is going to earn you the title of Mr. Nice. Not because the redhead in the next row loves charitable people. Not because it’s a good way to get attention in the public spotlight. No. Something deep, something sincere and real. Being interested in what others think, how they feel, what’s important to them, what they need. … A lot of sentimental hocus-pocus? Maybe. Personally, I am convinced that unless you really care for the people you are going to lead, you’ll never do anything meaningful – except by accident.

“…and here’s after…

Personally, I’m convinced that if you are helping people for your sake and not theirs, you’ll never be satisfied: either the “return” in personal glorification won’t come, or if it does, it won’t for long appease a constantly growing ego. If you’re out for glory you’ll never have enough, and you’ll never be happy. On the other hand, if you really care and want to help, then a lack of recognition is no great tragedy.

“Amazing that this sprang forth from the pen (or manual typewriter) of a 19-year-old.”

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Last modified: March 22, 2014