Issue Number 14: Leadership and the Great Escape

Sometimes, in the course of leading others, you have to compromise among virtues. You may have to act like everything is fine when you would rather curl up in a ball. You may have to pretend not to be worried, tired, or concerned when things are not going well.

But there is one thing you simply cannot do – you cannot compromise your integrity.

You cannot be a little honest or mostly fair. As soon as you lie, cheat, or act dishonestly, you have broken trust, and you may never regain it. Worse yet, you can safely assume the person whose trust you have broken will tell other people, and your damaged reputation will precede you, follow you and envelop you. Lying, cheating, or acting dishonestly will do even more damage to you than to others, because it diminishes you as a human being. This applies to all of us, regardless of our position, circumstances, or station in life.

While at the National Zoo I saw one of the Orangutans climbing on a set of cable about forty feet above the ground. It seemed like he could have escaped whenever he wanted, but he didn’t. That reminded me of a story I heard about a prisoner at the Lorton Reformatory near Washington DC.

On the grounds of the prison there is a graveyard called “Stoney Lonesome” where the unclaimed bodies of prisoners were buried. One day a prisoner was assigned to dig a grave in Stoney Lonesome. The prison guard dropped him off at the graveyard in the morning, picked him up at noon for lunch at the Workhouse, brought him back to the graveyard to finish up and returned him to the Workhouse that afternoon.

That night he escaped.

When he was captured he was asked why he did not escape while he was working alone in the graveyard. “That guard trusted me,” he said, “I couldn’t let him down.”

This is a level of trust to which we can all aspire.

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