Are you a Mensch or a Mouse?

Photo by jaarenwicklund via Flickr

Last week a girlfriend was recapping a TV interview with a Hollywood big-wig. “He actually seems like a real mensch”, she remarked.  (‘Mensch’ is a Yiddish word that literally means ‘human being’, but connotes a particularly fine, upstanding individual.) The surprise in her tone struck me – as if it was a novel concept that someone with such a profile can be a good person.

Lately, with so many leaders and (former) idols being called out on abusing their power and status, we’re getting used to breaking stories about their disgusting behaviour, offensive comments, deflected mistakes and exposed lies. That said, I coach many industry leaders – not quite Hollywood moguls, but significantly influential nonetheless – who are real mensches.

I took an informal poll among my network. I asked, “What makes a mensch of a leader?” Here’s what stood out:

They’re Humble. Everything this person asks of others, they do too, even if only on occasion. Sometimes they get the group coffee or make the photocopies. There’s never even a hint that they’re more important than the next person. They apologize easily and admit when they’re unsure.

They’re Thoughtful. They ask people about what matters to them. It’s clear they truly care about others’ experiences and feelings; they’re all in when they speak to you. They check in about their impact, and are particularly concerned about embarrassing anyone.

They’re Generous. mensch graciously gives time to their work team and colleagues, friends and family. They help out. They put their money and name behind causes they deem important.

They’re Respectful. They’re polite to everyone, regardless of position or gender: wait staff, receptionists, the intern, their peers. Even in a hurry or in a conflict, they’re fully present and their language is constructive. (And when they slip up, they own it.)

They Share the Credit. With awareness that their success is dependent on so many contributors, they graciously thank even the most peripheral ones when there’s a big win.

They’re Consistent. True mensches are the way they are, in both public and private situations. (These types are no good at faking it, anyway.)

So, a special shout out to the good people who are successful at the top because they’ve risen to the occasion, and inspired others to want to follow them.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”