More Than Money
Issue #35

Money and Leadership

Table of Contents

“A Second Revolution - The Way Leaders Live Their Lives”

by Bob Kenny

I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man, public as well as private.”
—Socrates

John Locke originally declared that life, liberty, and property are inalienable rights. Thomas Jefferson and company put more than a small spin on the phrase in the Declaration of Independence. When the Founders wrote “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” they championed a life of value, not just property. But what constitutes a life of value? And how is such a life achieved?

Socrates suggests that we find happiness by creating a life in which we honor our most cherished values. Isn’t that what the founding fathers meant by “the pursuit of happiness?” They created a capitalistic system within a democracy, allowing us to pursue happiness according to our own values.

There is, however, an ever-present tension between democracy and capitalism. Our economic and political systems are dependent on each other, but it is an uneasy relationship at best. It is with the effects of that uneasy relationship that I sometimes find myself wrestling.

It is impossible to escape the reality that I live in a culture dominated by money, where values seem to be relegated to a secondary consideration. Yet I realize that I am a beneficiary of this capitalistic system. My challenge is a balancing act: living democratic values (caring, respect, trust, responsibility) in a culture that promotes capitalist values (net worth, status, power). I must admit, at times I find it much easier to be a capitalist. As hard as I try, sometimes my life gets out of balance.

I know that if I want to be my best self, I have to pursue the democratic values I cherish. I have no ambivalence about doing so within a capitalist system; my goal is to live with awareness and intention, integrating my values into everyday life. But sometimes I wish it were easier. As I honestly admit how tough it is for me, a leader in an organization dedicated to putting values above money, I recognize with trepidation what that portends for the country, and indeed, the world. Almost every important issue that we face as a species over the next few decades will involve money and values. Individually and collectively, we are making vital decisions about energy, food production, water, health care, and education. If we continue on the present course, allowing money to set our standard, we will be making those decisions essentially devoid of values. What could be a greater threat to human survival?

I can’t just sit back and shake my head in disbelief, or point my finger at the Enrons of the world and say that capitalism is out of control. I have to do something. Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see.” Certainly I must start with myself, but I earnestly desire—and need—the company and support of others.

Unlike many countries, the United States does not have one charismatic and powerful founder. David McCullough’s much-honored book, John Adams, tells us how important the network of founding fathers and mothers was, as they worked together to establish the system of government we hold so precious today. The final words in the Declaration of Independence say, “…we pledge to each other our lives our fortunes and our sacred honor” (emphasis mine). Their pledge acknowledges the need for us to work together as a community, a society, and a nation.

Despite individual flaws and, in some cases, contradictions between their public and private values, the signers of the Declaration are recognized as great leaders because they endeavored to be ethical leaders. They are remembered for what Derek Bell calls “ethical ambition1,” not for their economic or political ambition. As we know, most of them were wealthy; some were extremely wealthy. They believed that to be wealthy and do nothing in a morally imperfect world was not the way to pursue happiness. They pursued happiness by using their wealth to enable them to live according to their highest values. Their bold action sent a message heard around the world, transforming the way people viewed individual freedom, power, inheritance, self-governance, and the pursuit of happiness. The world has never been the same again.

We are the inheritors of their legacy. We are the seventh generation since the Declaration of Independence. Can we stand up and tell the world that Americans are ready to transform the way we look at money and the pursuit of happiness? Despite our individual flaws and contradictions, can we demonstrate by our own actions that we are willing to attempt these changes? Can we be the ethical leaders of this generation?

I don’t think there will be one charismatic leader for the challenge we presently face. In their influential work, The Leadership Challenge2, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner write about leaders as “ordinary people who guide others along pioneering journeys.” We will need to guide and enable each other. Together, we can pursue the values and the happiness of a democratic culture, and we can encourage each other to take heart. When we do, there will be another revolution in this country and, once again, the rest of the world will never be the same.

1 See Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth by Derek Bell, Bloomsbury USA, 2003.
2 Third edition, Jossey-Bass, 2003.

Bob Kenny, Ed.D, is the executive director of More Than Money. For more than 20 years he has worked with individuals, communities, and organizations to identify and address the gaps between their stated values and the realities of their lives.