Steel And Velvet

August 28, 2008

I was doing my 2nd day training of our 2 day John Maxwell Leadership Workshop and Seminar to some of the budding leaders for a very huge business organization and I talked about good leaders being big enough to apologize for their mistakes and earn the respect of his or her people.

Yes Virginia , even bosses make mistakes.

Somebody sent me this material about bad bosses. Basic Rules concerning Bosses so consider this:


Rule 1: The Boss is always right!

Rule 2: In the impossible hypothesis that a subordinate may be right, Rule 1 becomes immediately operative.

Rule 3: The boss does not sleep; he rests.

Rule 4: The Boss is never late; he is delayed elsewhere.

Rule 5: The Boss never leaves his work; his attention is required elsewhere.

Rule 6: The Boss never reads the paper in his office; he studies.

Rule 7: The Boss never takes liberties with his secretary; he educates her.

Rule 8: The Boss is always chief, even in his bathing togs.

Rule 9: Whosoever may enter the boss’s office with an idea of his own must leave the office with the boss’s ideas.

Rule 10: If, in your lamentable ignorance, you fail to grasp the truth, fear not; return to rule 1.

Yes Virginia . Even bosses make mistakes. But what differentiates bosses from good leaders is that good leaders are big enough to admit their mistakes, rectify them and earn the respect of their people.

In the seminar however, one participant in the group was so bothered he asked me a pointed question: “But being a leader means you have to be tough and you could never afford to show your weakness in order to gain the respect of your people.” And then I realized that this has been the philosophy that has been fed a majority of our people.

No wonder we have a dearth of good leaders in this country.

Good leaders are not supermen. Even leaders are not immune to mistakes.

I told this honest and truth seeking gentleman, “Good leaders need to have firmness. Solid to the core as far as character is concerned. Standing unmoved when it comes to values and principles but they have to maintain a heart of tenderness.” And I can see the expression on the man’s face that my words sounded alien to him.

You see history will give us real examples of such leaders.

Leaders who are steel and velvet combined. Let me tell you of one such leader.

An unusual tribute was paid to Abraham Lincoln by Carl Sandburg.

The poet wrote, “Not often in the story of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, who is as hard as rock and soft as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect.”

Lincoln demonstrated then and now how a person can possess both a will of iron and a heart of tenderness. Nothing deterred the president during the American Civil War from his “noble” cause, and few persons have ever endured more criticism and detractors than Lincoln . Yet he was no more a man of steel than one of velvet.

When General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army, Lincoln sent an unexpected message to the enemy commander. “Tell your men they may keep their horses; they’ll need them for plowing,” said the president.

Then this: “Tell your men they may keep their rifles; they’ll need them for hunting.” When Lee read those words he wept.

I don’t think this showed Lincoln as weak; in fact it displayed his great strength of character.

The weak ones are those who bully the small and the poor.

The weak ones are those who strut around with an armed group of mean looking thugs designed to instill fear to those who dare oppose them.

The weak are those who are so small they will never dare admit their mistakes and apologize because they do not have the character in them to do so.

The weak are those who think that humility is a virtue accredited to wimps and that the strong should be those with super giant EGO always trying to impress people and win their admiration.

Be firm but be strong enough to be tender.

Moses was mightily used by God. Face off with the mightiest leader of the known civilization at that time. He opposed Pharaoh to his face, delivered his people out of slavery and brought them to the promised land. Tough? Yes. Tender? Yes. And this is why God says Moses was the most humble man on earth. A combination of steel and velvet. I hope this is convincing enough.

Be firm but do not harden your tender hearts and let it be constantly sensitive to God’s touch at all times.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. manya lay

    i love it. thanks for share here.

  2. jay

    …since last year, the very first time I’ve read one of your articles on “words once spoken…”, I became one of your followers. So interested I marked your website as one of my favorites. Again today, your “steel and velvet”; remarkably inspiring. Very informative, and as a budding leader, I’ll practice what I’ve read. Thanks and more power!

Leave a Reply