Leadership Notes #70 – Paradoxical Commandments for Leaders

(This series of “notes” first appeared in the YahooGroup “VenturingList” and are written by Michael Brown. I thought that they were worth sharing with the Commissioner Corps.)

You may have heard of the “Paradoxical Commandments” but never realized it. They were written by Dr. Kent Keith (http://www.paradoxicalcommandments.com/) in a book he wrote back in 1968. Someone posted it on the wall of Mother Teresa’s children’s home in Calcutta, where it was picked up and passed around. Some referred to it as a poem called “Anyway”, a few times misattributed to Mother Teresa. Here they are:

The Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

As noted, they were written with leaders in mind. Student leaders to be exact. In reading over them, I have sadly seen many of them in action. In trying to get people involved, I’ve often run into people’s illogical or unreasonable reasons not to.

I have many times seen others who knock themselves out in doing good work within their organizations, only to have others question their motives. And when people are successful, it’s interesting to see the type of people who popup and trying to attach themselves (or worse, take credit for themselves). How often have we seen the good word done by others be forgotten the next day?

I have many times been in meetings and such when great ideas are put forth, only to have them be shot down by others. Now, this doesn’t include good, honest criticism, with the intention of improving the idea, but people who are trying to kill the idea, not improve it. We have also seen others who spend a lot of time “building” things. Now, in this context, I would see this as building up an organization (could be a Crew or Ship, or even a VOA), or a program or event (large district or council training program or council event or the like). But once they step away, others take it over and either totally change it or they destroy it. (I guess they forgot the concept of “stewardship”).

Often times others need help. Perhaps it’s a unit or the like. Others will try to help, only to be attacked (again, maybe their motives are questioned).

Too often I’ve seen other leaders who have had to put up with the issues expounded on in the Commandments finally give in and throw in the towel and move on to other things. The usual excuse is “burn out”, but we’ve all seen it.

Dr. Keith has written several books on the Commandments, the first two I have looked at. The first is “Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments” (2001), which expounds on them. A chapter is devoted to each one. The second book is “Do It Anyway” (2003), which explains on how to live them. It’s a “how to” companion to the first work. It includes stories of others who have put the commandments to use, and gives info on how to apply them in your life.

The third and fourth book I have not seen. One is “Jesus did it Anyway” (2005), which ties in the Commandments to the teachings of Christ. And the other is “Have Faith Anyway” (2008), which presents an eleventh Paradoxical Commandment.

He has other books that I think are just as important. The first he wrote in 1968, which was where the Paradoxical Commandments were included. This is “The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council” (1968, 2003). He wrote it while a student at Harvard. Before that, he had been a student council leader in Hawaii, where he had established the Hawaii Student Leadership Institute, the official student council workshop for Hawaii (pretty impressive when you stop and realize he did this while in high school). The focus on this book is how to transform the student council and make a difference. I actually think that any Venturer who wishes to be a VOA leader should read this book. Yes, there are differences between a student council and a VOA, but there are enough similarities that I think this book is valuable.

His second book is “The Silent Majority: The Problem of Apathy and the Student Council” (1969, 2004), which he also wrote while at Harvard. As the title indicates, it’s how to address the issue of apathy among the members of student councils. Its point is that a student council’s greatest purpose is about people helping people, and that everyone is interested in something. So it’s the task of the leaders to find it and use it to bring people together and achieve that greater purpose. Again, I think that any Venturer who wishes to be either a crew or VOA leader should read this book. I see too many crews suffering with apathetic youth as well as VOAs. This work can be of value.

He has recently added a work to his “Paradoxical Commandments” series (“Silent Revolution” and “Silent Majority” are part of this series): “Morality and Morale” (2012). A business fable, or fictionalized story, it shows how following a moral code is important and how it can be a source of personal energy and success. A feature of this work is the “Universal Moral Code” that he developed. More information on this Code can be found at http://www.universalmoralcode.com/.

These works and other materials can be obtained at his website. He also has a DVD introducing Servant Leadership, which is pretty good.

Since 2007, Dr. Keith has been serving as the executive director of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, taking over from Larry Spears. (www.greenleaf.org) While there (he just recently stepped down from the position) he published “The Case for Servant Leadership” and “Questions and Answers on Servant Leadership”, which have been covered in past Notes.