This morning I awoke to learn of the tragic death of Bernie Madoff's son, Mark Madoff. As best I can tell, based on the facts available today, Mark Madoff was simply the victim of his father's terrible acts, now visited upon others. Driving the point of this tragedy home even further, Mark Madoff killed himself on the very anniversary of his father's fraud conviction. If that is not sending a message, I don't know what is.
Putting aside for a moment that I believe it is a terrible act of selfishness to kill yourself, leaving loved ones and others behind to deal with the mess you left (Mark Madoff leaves a wife, and his small child who was in another room when Mark took his own life), the link of this personal tragedy to that of his father's sins seems unmistakable.
As I reflect on this absolute tragedy, and the lifetime of potential emotional trauma now left for his child to sort out on their own, I also think about the lessons I speak to in my book LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Live in a Fear-Based World, notably Chapter One, entitled Loss Creates Leaders. In other words, the three things that are pretty much guaranteed in our lives, are daily problems, death and taxes. How we deal with them is another thing.
Successful living is not about the good times, as living with and in "good times" is easy. Living a successful life is substantially about successfully managing pain. Both the pain we create for ourselves, and the pain visited upon us by others.
How we respond to the pain and the challenges in and of our lives is everything.
Perspective on our problems, and the attitude we have in our lives, is everything.
I have found that life is just about 10% what life does to you, and 90% how you choose to respond to it. The only real question is what's our response going to be.
Respectfully, Mark Madoff's response to his accumulated problems and emotional pain was to check himself out of this God-given life, which in actuality creates even more pain for everyone, rather than alleviating any. My guess is that Mark Madoff felt enormous personal pain and pressure, just like at other times in his otherwise privileged life, he likewise felt enormous pride and prestige — all tied to his name. "Thanks dad" cuts both ways, and reminds me of that old southern saying, "watch how you live your life, it may be the only Bible that anyone else reads."
Of course, this philosophy also works both ways too. As Bernie Madoff has now visited his bad name on the presumably innocent lives of others in his family, likewise other leaders in public and private life have endowed great benefit to and for the lives of others they love through their accumulated good name.
My own mentor and personal hero, civil rights icon Ambassador Andrew Young, senior aide to Dr. King in the civil rights movement amongst countless other life accomplishments, once told his children that he was going to "endow them with a quality education and a good name," and the rest was up to them. And while my dear friend Andrew "Bo" Young, III, son and namesake of Ambassador Young, for a very long time seemed uncomfortable with the burden, but even more so the assumptions and presumptions that comes with such a name, I believe that today he wears it (the name) with enormous pride.
Today Bo Young (as his friends call him) is a very successful businessman who, all would agree, achieved the substance of his business success completely on his own and as a result of his own hard work, integrity and innate smarts, one simply cannot discount the value of his "good name," in opening doors and making immediate friends. But life is also about balance, and in this regard Bo Young and I share at least one philosophy about success and hard work in life, and I call it "the James Brown version of Affirmative Action." That translates roughly, "open the door and I will get it myself."
Bo's father and amazing mother, Ms. Jean Childs Young, opened many doors with their "good name" and their personal sense of integrity. And likewise, in a more modest but equally important way, my mother and father left me with a "good name" too. The rest, was up to Bo and me. What we sought next in life, was a hand up, and not a hand out.
In the field of business leadership, and on the intellectual and entrepreneurial battleground of relative success and failure, daily life is tough enough already. No one wants or needs to be further weighed down with the added handicap of what I call "a bad name."
What's the message and the leadership lesson here, in the backdrop of the worst economic crisis of our generation? It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who once said, essentially, "…we are all interconnected…" Surely this global economic crisis would powerfully suggest that we are all in this thing together, and that the decisions in New York impact a village of investors in say, Norway. As I suggest in Love Leadership, with respect to this crisis, "treating clients like transactions rather than like valued relationships lies at the very heart of our now global economic crisis."
Going forward, we should all "watch how you live your life, as it may be the only Bible that anyone else reads." No one is perfect, but we should try to do the right thing whenever we can, and intent does matter.
As the Native American Indians have been known to believe, "every decision we make impacts seven generations yet unborn."
About John Hope Bryant
A Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum, an Oprah's Angel Network award recipient, a TIME Magazine 50 (Leaders) for the Future (94'), John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur, the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Operation HOPE, the Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), advisor to the last three sitting U.S. presidents, a thought leader, public speaker, and an innovator in the business of empowerment.
Mr. Bryant serves U.S. President Barack Obama on the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, and prior to that Mr. Bryant served U.S. President George W. Bush as vice chairman of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Council, and chairman of the council Committee on the Under-Served.
With the publishing of Love Leadership, Mr. Bryant became one of the few African-American business bestselling author published in mainstream business leadership in the country. Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), has made the Inc. MagazIne-CEO Read Business Best Seller List a total of 11 months since being published.