Each of Us is Needed

Leadership is an Art

Leadership is an Art by Max DePree

In his wonderful 1987 book Leadership is an Art, retired Herman Miller CEO Max DePree tells a story about diversity.  He notes that one of the key people in the 1920 furniture business founded by his father was the millwright, who oversaw the steam engine that powered the enterprise.  One day the millwright died.

DePree’s father went to visit the family, and after some awkward conversation the widow asked if it would be all right if she read aloud some poetry. DePree continues with his story.

“Naturally, he agreed.  She went into another room, came back with a bound book, and for many minutes read selected pieces of beautiful poetry.  When she finished, my father commented on how beautiful the poetry was and asked who wrote it.  She replied that her husband, the millwright, was the poet.  It is now sixty years since the millwright died, and my father and many of us at Herman Miller continue to wonder:  Was he a poet who did millwright’s work, or was he a millwright who wrote poetry?”

DePree takes the lesson of this story as the need to endorse a concept of persons.

“This begins with an understanding of the diversity of people’s gifts and talents and skills….Understanding and accepting diversity enables us to see that each of us is needed.  It also enables us to begin to think about being abandoned to the strengths of others, of admitting that we cannot know or do everything.”

Diversity can be a catchphrase and frequently – in all its richness – goes unrecognized.  We are all better when – as we recognize what individuals bring to our lives – we “polish, liberate, and enable” those gifts.

Have a good week.

More to come…


One Response

  1. […] I’ve mentioned before how much I have learned from the book Leadership is an Art by Max DePree.  Events in my life are leading me back to reference this work. I want to share some thoughts from this book, beginning with DePree’s writings on intimacy and work.  The former CEO and Chairman of Herman Miller, Inc. begins his chapter on the subject by saying,  “Intimacy is at the heart of competence.  It has to do with understanding, with believing, and with practice.  It has to do with the relationship to one’s work…intimacy with one’s work leads to solid competence.” […]

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