“Seppuku” is a traditional, excruciatingly painful and public way to commit suicide in Japan. It has not been displayed since World War II, but was widely observed and expected in Japanese culture up until then. Ingrained in Japanese culture is the concept of shame and the expectation of suicide in the face of that shame. In fact, it was not only men who committed suicide (sometimes through disembowelment), but their wives would commit suicide should their husbands have brought shame to their house.
You may have heard of honor killings in India and Pakistan. This, too, is part of their culture. With Internet and social media, some cultures are changing. Closed cultures are opening up due to their youth using social media. They no longer want to embrace these traditions.
Yet, it speaks to the power of culture. Disembowelment? Kill your sister? If your culture dictates that it is right, you will do it, no problem.
Leadership is so critical because leaders help create and maintain culture. An exceptional leader inspires employees and societies. Leaders help create strong, empathic cultures. Thus, it is critical to choose our leaders carefully.
They pushed the boundaries within their respective genres.
Bowie created music (and himself) in ways that the world had never seen before. The same could be said of Prince. Muhammad Ali is arguably the greatest athlete ever.
But something else separated them from others. Bowie was said to be down-to-earth to the very end. Prince loved his hometown Minneapolis and stayed loyal, building his empire there. And Ali was sentenced to five years in jail (which became a three year abstinence from his work) for refusing to be drafted for the Vietnam War. He famously declared, “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” Bowie, Prince and Ali lived in accordance to their values, while disregarding any possible financial or career damage.
Perhaps, instead of simply working, we can work simply: with our values as our guides.