From One to Many

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison explains why self-interest has become shared interest.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and the author of The Five Graces of Life and Leadership.

I had a different message in the works for this week. Then came the watershed events of the past several days in Ukraine—the destruction, devastation, and already the loss of thousands of lives. It continues to unfold on the world stage.

As people, as sons and daughters, as family members, as friends, as colleagues, as leaders … our hearts go out to those who are in harm’s way. And at Korn Ferry, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Ukraine—and all those impacted by the human misery.

Although we cannot know what the future will hold, we need look no further than the past for context.

Growing up, I heard stories from my parents and my aunts and uncles about what it was like to be children during the Great Depression and then young adults during World War II, which meant everything from military service to rationing at home. People were galvanized by a mission far bigger than themselves—the stewardship of one generation to protect the lives of the next.

Their stories of sacrifice had a profound influence.

Today, once again, our resolve does not come from any one individual. It comes from the many, like the crescendo of a choir over any single brash voice. The sound reverberates the loudest where people need it most—inspiring hope and quelling fear. Self-interest becomes shared interest.

It takes the unity of the many to stand up to the divisiveness of the one. We’re seeing that now, manifesting in a war that few of us ever could have imagined. The pain, the loss, the suffering of today, and the unknown repercussions for tomorrow. And yet, leadership comes from the many—unexpected people in unexpected places, emerging when and where it is most needed.

As we’ve seen, in life and leadership, a single truth holds: The course of humanity ultimately will never be dictated by tyranny. There is no place for egocentric self-service. Rather, it is the courage found in the unity of the many that forever triumphs over the will of only one. If we ever forget the lessons of life and leadership, we do ourselves a huge disservice.

Leadership is at its best when we supply hope, not fuel despair.

When we encourage, not discourage.

When we unite, not divide.

When we construct, not destroy.