November 8, 2005
by Deborah Brody Hamilton
The following essay was prepared for a discussion on philanthropic leadership—part of a series of six discussions entitled "The Dialogues on Civic Philanthropy: Perfecting Our Grants" (2005-2006). By clicking the links to the right, you can access more information on this series, learn about the Dialogues project as a whole, read other prepared essays, and download discussion transcripts.
AT THE END of Annie Hall, Woody Allen is musing about the nature of relationships, and he says:
I thought of that old joke, you know, this-this-this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother's crazy. He thinks he's a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don't you turn him in?” And the guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.”
I think this captures the essence of how we feel about our leaders today. Leadership is difficult. It brings out great human strength and sometimes even greater human frailty. It can be “in your face” or very subtle, very cruel or very kind. And while we are talking specifically about philanthropic leadership, I believe that the basic concepts of leadership are universal.
Let me start with an extreme illustration of evil leadership. Not too long ago, I saw the German movie, Downfall. It was a secretary’s account of her three years as a member of Adolph Hitler’s inner circle. She lived in his houses; shared his meals; took his dictation, and typed his letters and speeches. All in all, she seems quite fond of him. I was so perplexed by this that I looked up her autobiography (on which the movie was based). Transfixed and horrified, I read the book in one sitting. It was even clearer in the book that this woman, Trudl Yunge, admired Hitler and, at the end, felt very sorry for him. She wrote in great detail about how Hitler mesmerized those closest to him. Even now—sixty years later—she still does not seem to fully grasp that this man was evil and that she, despite her youth, was a part of this evil. This now-elderly woman has led a lonely, isolated life and comments that her years with Hitler were the only time she ever felt she belonged anywhere. Thus, in one of the supreme paradoxes of human nature, Yunge experienced personal kindness from a horrifically evil person. How is this possible?
In 1989, I was part of a delegation from the Council on Foundations to the Soviet Union to meet with people starting non-governmental organizations. The topic of Stalin came up. A member of our group commented upon how shocking it was that one man could kill so many people. A young Russian piped up, “It was not just Stalin. It took only one man to give the orders; it took thousands to carry them out, and millions to look the other way.” If leaders can be evil, then what about their followers?
While these are harsh examples, I believe they are relevant for those of us who choose to work in the philanthropic sector. Lesser tyrants exist in all walks of life. They are particularly troubling in the philanthropic sector because it exists explicitly to do good things in the world. How do we come to terms with the leaders in our sector who may accomplish tremendously good things by changing public policy, running social service programs, or calling for world peace, while at the same time creating nasty interpersonal conflicts, stepping on people’s careers and on their spirits, and underpaying and overworking their staffs? In his
Deborah Brody Hamilton is director of Member Services at the Association of Small Foundations.
Home | Learn About Hudson | Hudson Scholars | Find an Expert | Support Hudson | Contact Information | Site Map
Policy Centers | Research Areas | Publications & Op-Eds | Hudson Bookstore
Hudson Institute, Inc. 1015 15th Street, N.W. 6th Floor Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202.974.2400 Fax: 202.974.2410 Email the Webmaster
© Copyright 2013 Hudson Institute, Inc.