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Close the gap between intent, behavior

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By Sterling Freeman

Earlier this year, the William C. Friday fellows of the Wildacres Leadership Initiative in Durham and the senior fellows of the Lee Institute in Charlotte met on the campus of Queens University of Charlotte.

The group — university administrators, philanthropists, business people, community builders, environmentalists, legal and health-care professionals – was a sectoral potpourri, emitting the aroma of a common interest in ethical leadership.

Bill Grace, founder and former director of the Center for Ethical Leadership, was our teacher, instigator and motivator for the day.

He offered himself as a resource, experienced in the field of leadership development.

Refreshingly, he did not cast himself in the role of universal, flawless authority, waving a pristine palm and promoting a “five-step program” to the resolution of all of our ethical dilemmas.

Rather he invited us to wrestle with him, as co-laborers – fallible and imperfect – in the struggle to be ethical leaders.

He admonished us to be careful of words, reflecting moral intent, and more conscious of our feet, reflecting moral behavior, and when we see them on divergent paths, act to close the gap.

Closing the gap requires commitment to core values and courage to integrate them in our daily practice.

He noted that eminent scholar Cornel West suggests we must speak truth to power in love.

“To power” and “in love” are not mutually exclusive, but inextricably linked.

Without the former, those figures in positions to help stimulate the moral barometer are left unchallenged, and change is left stuck in the proverbial fantasyland.

Without the latter, incivility and combativeness heighten the risk of aborting proposed change.

The combination of the two calls to account moral influencers, whatever the context – local, state, national, international communities — and makes it easier for them to hear that call.

And when we speak truth to power in love, let our witness be wrapped in the conviction that we can all do better.

We can live better, act better, treat one another better, make better decisions, create better communities and leave this world a better place.  Having hope is the key.

What Bill Grace offers is thoughtful, provocative and of benefit to anyone who is serious about closing the gap.


Sterling E. Freeman is executive director of the Wildacres Leadership Initiative in Durham, a group that works to “promote leadership with integrity, intention and inclusion.”

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