A Few Good Men

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but licence.” ~ John Milton

One of my responsibilities as CEO is to foster a corporate culture that best serves all of the stakeholders in our company. I love this part of my job, as it is a microcosm in which I am able to articulate, introduce and test components of my vision for how to make the world a better place. No matter how big you dream, you have to start with what you have.

The corporate culture of any company is a product of the shared attitudes, values, goals and practices held by its stakeholders, including, but not limited to the owners, directors, staff and clients. In my experience, culture is born of either default habit or deliberate intervention. When cultural development occurs by default, it constrains to something closely resembling human nature. When it is carefully managed, however, the sky’s the limit. You can create a culture of excellence just or you can settle for a culture of mediocrity.

While there are many variables in the equation of culture, some carry more weight than others. One of the weightier or more influential factors is that of the balance between externally imposed rules and internally driven self-governance. Rules are valuable, in that they encourage uniformity while providing a floor of expectations beneath which no man can sink without risking unemployment. They protect the company and those who work in it from the bottom of the barrel, but they also become the standard to which those who aspire to do the bare minimum hew.

My preference is to hire people who have the rare combination of a love of freedom and a well-cultivated capacity for self-control as such people obviate the need for external controls. Good men and women, as Milton noted, love freedom heartily. Those who love freedom in this way respect it and do everything within their power to protect it. Those who do not possess this uncommon quality of character tend to abuse freedom if it is given to them with no strings attached, and they seem to prefer a state where they are forced to beg and vie for permission to be free rather than functioning in a way that they could actually be free.

To give stage to those who love freedom you must be willing to invest in them, trust their judgment and give them the authority to make decisions, all the while cultivating in them a cooperative spirit and deep respect for those with whom they share a common purpose. Trust is the currency of such investments, and while it is true that trust must be earned, you often find as a manager that you must invest in others beyond the point which they trust themselves.

You have to believe in people, in their goodness, in the fundamental desire to be right for such an approach to work. I love people who love freedom heartily. I love people who refuse to submit to the gravitational pull of mediocrity. I love people who want the world to be a better place…and who are willing to do the work required to make the dream come true.

7 thoughts on “A Few Good Men

  1. Colin

    This is really one of the key criteria for discovering the caliber of people you want to surround yourself with. I really see how a love of freedom and a finely tuned sense of personal responsibility creates a totality of character that is greater than the sum of its parts. Like you said, you have to trust to find these types of people, and to foster the environment where these types of people can grow and thrive, but in the end these are the only type of people that you can trust with the really important things. An organization full of this type of people would be so productive, and so innovative, and such a fun place to work.
    You do really need both parts of the equation, though. In Milton’s quote, the love of license instead of freedom can be just as damaging, as people that do not love freedom do not generally like it for themselves or for anyone else, either!


  2. Vincent

    Most of us enjoy being free of restrictions, but to love freedom is something else, because real freedom is an integrated condition that allows each one to be in place to the benefit of each other one. If we genuinely love freedom, then, our concern is never selfish or exclusive. We love to see others freed to be themselves, and entities such as a company, or even a country, freed to be itself. The story of the world we know has been one of individuals or groups wresting freedom from others in order to establish it for themselves, but one state of bondage just leads to another on that basis. This is a vital topic for meditation.


  3. I love this type of person as well Gregg. They are the difference makers, not only in a company/business setting but in all aspects of their lives. And always they start with themselves as an example for others. Thanks for today’s post – it is an exceptional reminder of one of the (many) choices that we have.


  4. Coco

    Freedom vs license is individually a test of character and as a whole a forecast of our future. The argument of more government vs individual freedoms asks this same question of us. When given the space is our character sufficient to at least saflely sustain and hopefully propell us? I think the freedom on the Internet has been a great test of our inner guidance systems. Some have used it to advance our civilization while others to proliferate disintegration. It is another chance for mankind to prove it’s worthiness. I appreciate your using it as TED does .


  5. Ricardo B.

    Sometimes the first step is actually the belief that freedom is even possible. Human nature can constrain things so to the point where one may only end up believing in a culture of license. That’s a sad day when that moment arrives, because things have reached a point where you have made up your mind that things are just that way and you go along rather mechanically in your ‘duties’ – there is no glow to your actions. Your interactions with others become harsh and angular which tends to rub people the wrong way. We all respond much better to warmth and liveliness, that’s for sure. That’s one huge difference between the green pastures of freedom and the rocky crags of license.

    So the question is, how to uplift the culture in your world. I’ve learned to first and foremost keep your eye on the target. Smokescreens and distractions will abound, and it’s oh so easy to get caught up in the symptoms of the problems we face in dealing with people’s sense of culture. You better believe that cultures will clash here, but the stronger one in spirit carried through, will always win. If you are looking to better the environment in which you work in, you just can’t give in to trying to fix all the complaints people have, for it will never stop on that basis. The target is one’s ultimate sense of responsibility to maintain high standards within yourself and to focus other’s attention primarily on their own attitudes, regardless of what is happening round about. I think that’s really the only way to gain sufficient capacity of leadership of a nobler culture – as you gain self-mastery and self-control.
    All the things you have previously written in arms with Mr. Jordan’s work come to mind. Truly great stuff to think about. The culture of freedom is where it’s at!


  6. Doug

    Excellent description of the perfect associate. Freedom allows for creativity; license is conducive to gall. In today’s market the biggest advantage for a company is it’s people. A free exchange of appreciation and a shared purpose to serve the customer sets the stage. Thanks.


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