Your appointment as the first non-consultant Senior Partner at McKinsey makes you a pioneer among leaders. Any general thoughts on the promises or perils of leadership?
Anyone who works with me would say I’m professionally demanding. My position is, if we’re working together on something, we must aim for excellence and distinctiveness. That’s non-negotiable.
But too often leadership can come to represent hierarchy and power. In Judaism there’s a strict prohibition against worshipping idols and Hasidic philosophy adds that the ego itself can be an idol. When we start to worship ourselves, there’s no place left for God.
In business life, it’s very easy to get caught up in the ego, to believe that “I” actually have something uniquely valuable going on. Our identity and self-esteem can become linked very closely to the hierarchy of organizations. The “Senior Partner” is more important than the “Partner” who’s more important than the “Senior Associate.” That sort of thing.
What I’ve learned is that these are roles. Each of us occupies one professional role or another and we need to fulfill those roles as well as we can. But that’s not who we are as people. George Harrison, one of my great heroes, said something like, “I wrote some tunes. You think that’s who I am? That’s not me. That’s just this guy who wrote these songs.”
What would you say to those who argue that there really isn’t time in the day for philosophy?
I would disagree. There’s a lot of time in the day. It’s about what we prioritize.
If I don’t get to synagogue in the morning, I pray at home: It’s 15 minutes and it changes my day. It’s not about informing my next business decision. It’s about changing my mindset, being sensitive to different things, being grateful, being mindful. It gives me more tools to respond to situations. It can allow me to see connections I’d otherwise miss.
Eliot says in The Wasteland: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”
That’s how I think about it. These different things, these arrows of inspiration, they don’t seem interrelated but they are. There’s a wholeness we’re struggling to realize. Connecting the dots across experience. It’s an amazing idea, that this pursuit of wholeness—business issues, people issues, the professional and the personal—is at a deeper level what we’re really trying to achieve in our lives.
I was discussing this with somebody the other day. They pointed out to me that the word “integrity” and the word “integrated” are related. Both come from the idea of the “integer” as a number that has no fractions. An integer is whole. Isn’t that amazing?
Michael France, a former journalist and corporate lawyer, co-leads Brunswick’s global Industrials and Infrastructure sector. Kevin Helliker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is Editor of the Brunswick Review. Both are Partners in Brunswick’s New York office.
Photographs by Richard Mitchell.