Selflessness is a mark of great leadership

Columnist and Columnist

At the height of the Roman Republic, wealthy Romans spent private money on public works and spectacles in an attempt to gain honor or dignitas.

This endeavor was also a ploy to gain votes for office and while this seems questionable to us, it is a significant reason why we have a wealth of surviving ancient monuments.

While wealthy individuals in Roman times had much to gain through donating money, one can imagine a Rome like culture in which prominent members of society donate personal wealth for the greater good. This type of society would be greatly enhanced through the actions of a selfless few.

While selflessness as a trait is not always immediately associated with effective leadership, it is truly significant. Taking many different possible forms, selflessness appears in a variety of scenarios to inspire the masses.

There is a certain undeniable attraction to those who lead personal charges despite the threat, or guarantee, of severe consequences.

The example given by the Roman elites is hardly an example of selflessness as these individuals had much to gain. Fast forward 2000 years and another man would attempt to reignite this movement; however, this time it would be entirely philanthropic, and endlessly selfless.

The Scottish born American, Andrew Carnegie is one of the most important, yet least known men in modern history. The walking embodiment of a rags-to-riches story, Carnegie was able to amass an enormous steel empire and a nearly inconceivable amount of wealth.

Choosing to retire at the age of 66, he sold his empire to James P. Morgan for $480 million [today’s equivalent would be nearly $13.5 billion].

Having been quite possibly the most instrumental figure in the industrialization of the United States, Carnegie then turned his attention towards his work as a philanthropist in an attempt to improve the lives of people across the world. The good news is he was arguably most successful in this endeavor.

As any “good Roman” would have done in the pursuit of honor, Carnegie devoted his time and money and, in return, had his name attached to an extensive list of well recognized institutions.

He started both the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, in 1901, as well as the Carnegie Institute of Science in Washington D.C. in 1902— both of which are now associated with Carnegie Mellon University.

In addition, he is also responsible for founding other organizations and charitable deeds that are quite literally too numerous to list here. Carnegie is, however, best known for two other projects of significance.

He was a leader in the movement fighting for literacy and established a series of public libraries, totaling over three thousand across the U.S. and English speaking world.

Also, in the act that most embodies the spirit of a Roman elite, Carnegie built one of the world’s most prestigious music halls which is located in New York City, otherwise known as Carnegie Hall.

Andrew Carnegie is the embodiment of a selfless man. In a similar fashion as wealthy Romans 2000 years earlier, Carnegie devoted private funds in his interest of benefiting the public.

Almost 100 years after his death, his bones have turned to dust but his work as a philanthropist lives on.

The example he set of extreme unselfishness will reign through the ages as his name and buildings will always remain in a symbiotic relationship. Carnegie blazed a trail of wealthy men and women donating their time and money to philanthropic work of their own.

For this reason, Carnegie is a perfect example of selflessness and leadership.

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