Do Individuals Still Count for Much of Anything?

We have been thinking a bit more, perhaps belatedly, but better late than never, it has been said, about systems and individuals.  One might argue that a casualty of modernity has been charisma – the compelling dynamic of individuals to lead, bring communities to excellence, to heal and to inspire.  We live under the ministrations of great organizations – bureaucracies, hierarchies, peer pressure – encased in our roles, confined by rational/legal criteria of justice, subordinated to celebrity and the alure of going along to be paid for conformity with money, status or power.

Many seem to have given up on the possibility of individual greatness.  Academically, I have been trained in systems theory – the social system; the political system; the economic system; the self-system; etc.

Who can act?  Who is willing to act?

We speak of moral capitalism, but where are the moral capitalists?

Here in Minnesota, we have started an annual recognition award for individuals.  We call it the Dayton Award, in honor of the Dayton family here which, for four generations, has given to society individuals who are willing to act for the common good.

Our colleagues in Mexico, for many years now, give annual awards (a distintivo) to companies which have achieved under their leaderships.

The Caux Round Table will present Dayton Awards for 2022 to Mary Anne Kowalski, owner of Kowalski’s Markets, Kris Kowalski Christiansen, CEO of Kowalski’s Markets and Kyle Smith, CEO of Reell Precision Manufacturing.

Our board of directors has established the criteria for selection of an award recipient as:

-CEO of a Minnesota company or similar operational organization.
-Revenue and profits if relevant to mission.
-Community impact if relevant to mission.
-Demonstrated innovation/response to market opportunities.
-Quality of company culture.
-Care of employees.
-Customer satisfaction.
-Environmental stewardship.
-Personal community commitment.
-Company community commitment.
-Vision and prudence: level 5 leadership traits (Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great)

We seek to recognize leadership, not position.  In fact, small and family-owned companies contribute more to the quality of our lives than do large corporations.  Small businesses constitute 99% of all American companies and employ 47% of working Americans.  We have also found that small and family-owned companies are more in touch with their stakeholders than are large corporations, which tend, on the whole, to favor shareholders.  The companies that made Minnesota prosperous with a high quality of life, honest and dedicated public officials and dynamic civil society nonprofits started as family-owned or small companies.

It is the intangible of leadership that counts most for moral success.

There are essential abilities required to lead – integrity, courage, compassion, respect and responsibility:

Integrity is being honest and having strong moral principles.  Having integrity means you are true to yourself and would do nothing that demeans or dishonors you.  Integrity makes you believable, as you know and act on your values.

Courage is strength in the face of adversity and upholding what is right, regardless of what others may think or do.  Courage enables you to take a stand, honor commitments and guide the way.  Courage is a necessary element of responsibility.

Compassion is having concern for another.  It is feeling for and not feeling with the other.  Compassion is concern of others in a more global sense.

Respect is a feeling of deep admiration for someone.  Leaders ought to be respected and they ought to respect those with whom they work.  Demonstrating this perspective is essential to motivate and inspire others.

Responsibility is acting on commitment, will, determination and obligation.  Responsibility implies the satisfactory performance of duties, the adequate discharge of obligations and the trustworthy care for or disposition of possessions.  It is being willing and able to act in a life-enhancing manner.  Responsibility is expected of self, as well as from others.

The nomination of Kyle Smith reported that:

I have never met an individual with more integrity than Kyle Smith.  He holds himself to such a high standard of integrity, beyond what most of us even think about.  He is intentional about everything he does, in business and his personal life.  He is honest and extremely trustworthy.  He knows what he believes and why he believes it and his values are his compass.  He is a humble, servant leader.  Kyle faces into hard decisions.  Many courageous decisions have been made.  In 2009, Reell’s revenue was cut in half.  Kyle became CEO and led the way to greater profitability.  The share price has since grown over 700%.  When he joined the company, the bankers were calling us every day and now we are healthy and debt-free!  Kyle knows the names of every coworker.  His door is always open for anyone to talk about life or work.

The nomination of Mary and Kris Kowalski Christiansen, owners of a family business, reported that:

Mary and Kris became excellent teachers of civic responsibility and the qualities needed to create wealth. They understand wealth as excellence, of which profits are the by-product.  They established a vision, expressed in their mission statement which was developed by “store citizens” and printed on their grocery bags – “Kowalski’s is a Civic Business.”  This is a statement of Kowalski’s continuing commitment to the principles of moral capitalism and citizenship, defined in the company’s educational opportunities for all employees, in the care shown to all stakeholders and in the inclusiveness of the Kowalski mindset regarding their reciprocal duty with the larger community.       

In 1991, Charles Denny, then the CEO of ADC Telecommunications, chaired a presentation by Ryuzaburo Kaku, then Chairman of Canon Inc.  Mr. Kaku spoke of the Japanese business ethic of kyosei or symbiosis, whereby each company thrives due to reciprocal engagement with its stakeholders.  Inspired by Mr. Kaku’s approach, which they found very similar to their own value-based understanding of successful business enterprise, several Minnesotans, including Chuck Denny and Tony Anderson, then CEO of H.B. Fuller, decided to present a set of ethical principles to the Caux Round Table, which met in Caux, Switzerland.  Those principles had been worked out by a group here in Minnesota, including Bob MacGregor and Professor Kenneth Goodpaster of the University of St. Thomas.

The ceremony will be held in April.