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fringe benefits of leadership

Uncle Ben in Spider-Man film. It seems also true, for most cases, that with great power comes quite a deal of fringe benefits. People in high positions are often offered better cars, more expensive furniture in their office, and business class seats when traveling. They are invited to fancy events and exquisite dining occasions. In many cases, these opportunities present themselves without having to ask for such. Many years ago, I had a chance to listen to a speech given by a very famous and successful businessperson, who happened to be a devout man. He cautioned the young audience that once you get rich, the most beautiful women you ever saw would start to approach you. When people around a leader keep treating him or her with utmost preference, how easy it would be for the person to take it all for granted and even go on to exploit the position and the influence to one’s own benefit. With such backdrop, it was quite intriguing to read the following passage about what was expected of a leader of a nation:

“The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.” — Deutronomy 17:16-17
What is written is a warning against excess accumulation of what could be nice to have in moderation. Not many leaders, however, seem to have succeeded in following this direction. Even the King Solomon who started his royal career with moral distinction succumbed to the force of degradation in the end. Here is how he started:
“The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”” — I Kings 3: 10-15
And this is what happened in his later years:
“He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.” — I Kings 11:3-6
It seems King Solomon went to extremes in pursuit of all the benefits he could afford. How then could the leaders enjoy the legitimate fringe benefits that accompany the position while avoiding the temptations and staying true to the calling as servant leaders? We sometimes hear about business leaders who exercise surprising level of self-restraint.
IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad insists on flying coach, takes the subway to work, drives a ten-year-old Volvo, and avoids suits of any kind. It has long been rumored in Sweden that when his self-discipline fails and he drinks an overpriced Coke out of a hotel minibar, he will go to a grocery store to buy a replacement. — from a 2004 Fortune Magazine article by Cora Daniels
Perhaps this example is becoming more of an exception than a rule these days. It takes extraordinary courage and will to exercise restraint against the tendency of heart to enjoy the luxuries that often accompany power. Without moderation, what seems legitimate and harmless can spoil the leader so quickly. It then must be a virtue for a leader–or, for that matter, anyone–to learn the art of deferred gratification.]]>

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