Why Ethics and Virtue are Important in Leadership


I went into commercial real estate in New York City in order to take over for my father’s company, which is what he had always wanted and encouraged me to do. From the beginning, I was challenged in various ways — often pulled between work and family as I tried to build the Winick Realty Group that my father had founded and carry on the labor of love that he had initiated. For me, however, I often wondered whether this same labor was a passion of mine or whether I was simply in it because it was indeed the “family” business. In spite of these obstacles and doubts, I helped to expand Winick Realty into new sectors, including landlord and building ownership, as well as opening offices in Miami and Los Angeles. I discovered that I was good at my job and was, in a sense, a “chip off the old block.” At the same time the work did not resonate with me when I contemplated the bigger picture and the purpose of life. I wanted to do something more meaningful — something for people and for communities: something not money-driven and business-oriented.

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In this way I also discovered my inner sense of corporate social responsibility. Being in a position where I could affect lives had always attracted me and from a young age I had engaged in volunteer and missionary work. This desire, I can see now, was rooted in what the Master said in The Analects of Confucius: “The mind of the superior man is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the mean man is conversant with gain.”[footnoteRef:1] While “gain” was obviously important to me and my family, “righteousness” was equally as important — if not more so — to me. I valued the idea of giving back to people less fortunate than I. Thus from a young age I began a very satisfying relationship with Operation Smile — an international charity engaged in helping to provide surgical care for children born with cleft lip/palate. [1: Confucius, The Analects of Confucius. Internet Archive, Book 4 — Le Jin.]

Through Operation Smile, I founded a gala event and stat on gala committees for a number of years, participated in missions to Vietnam and Bolivia, managed to raise for the charity more than half a million dollars before I graduated high school, and became very close with Operation Smile’s founders Bill and Kathy McGee. As I grew older and took over the family business, the most important challenge that I was cognizant of facing was how to take the skill set I had acquired through working in commercial real estate and use it to do more good in the world.

In this way, what motivated my career was not so much the “gain” as the thought of doing something “righteous” through what the career had given me. I had a family, worked hard and valued hard work. Keeping both feet on the ground while maintaining modesty and humility in spite of the success I had was very important in cultivating the right attitude towards life. I did not simply want to emulate the “well to do” — I wanted to “emulate the man of substance and honor” as Socrates notes in the Gorgias.[footnoteRef:2] This is the foundation of the legacy of responsible leadership that I have always wanted to leave behind: leadership that is based on helping others — not on simply “getting ahead” all for oneself. [2: Socrates, Gorgias, Internet Archive. Web. 18 Dec 2015.]

Thus my philosophy has been that there is more to success than the accumulation of money — that real success comes from using your knowledge and skills to better the lives of others and to contribute in positive ways to the community. Being good in business has, of course, allowed me to contribute in many ways to the world around me — and for that I am thankful.

Those closest to me have learned that life is about making a difference — about making the world a better place. Those in a position of authority, as I am in my business, have a responsibility to practice ethical guidance not just in the workplace but also in the community. Casual acquaintances also observed this about me just through noticing my daily activities and how I am consistent in my approach to all people — fair, honest, empathetic, and clear. My aspiration has always been to be seen as such as well as to be viewed as one who is reliable. As Machiavelli notes, in order to good we must also know how to do wrong[footnoteRef:3] — and for me that means understanding the temptations that face successful people and steering clear of them by keeping a mindset that is balanced, grounded, and visionary. For me, having a vision of what I want to do in the world to make it a better place is essential to my success in business and in life. [3: Nicolo Machiavelli, The Pirince. Gutenberg. Web. 18 Dec 2015.]

Solutions to what allow me to do good in business and in the community are found in the fact that I have been able to be a success in commercial real estate, which gives me the foundation for giving to charities as well as helping to develop communities and assist in urban planning. Every five years it is one of my goals to provide a new low-income housing development within the five boroughs to help workers live affordably near their places of employment. It is also one of my goals to provide green housing — homes that utilize green technology such as energy efficient windows and heating and environmentally friendly energy sources. Another goal is to establish myself in power communities that have defining elements such as the Heights and build a development that enhances the community and expands its cultural/social backgrounds. One new building would be devoted to an open area space for free art exhibits and performances for the community.

As architect Moshe Safdie has shown, uniqueness and ingenuity can go far in this business and they can add to the value and creative force that makes life so fulfilling and rewarding. Safdie’s own creations sparkle with vivacious liveliness and brilliant, flourishing designs that they cannot help but inspire others to tackle life in a way in which challenges are not seen as problems but as opportunities to grow and develop into something greater.[footnoteRef:4] When I look at some of the work by Safdie I see a soul that is infused with grace and brilliance and it is that which I aim to mirror in my own life. Success and good leadership, I have learned over the years, is about acting as a conduit of that genius which surrounds at all times and is simply waiting for a chance to be manifested in our actions if we just allow it to come out. [4: Moshe Safdie, “Building Uniqueness,” TED, 2002. Web. 18 Dec 2015.]

When I think of all I have done in my life and how I have been able to accomplish so much, I reminded of the fact that I would not have been able to do any of it alone. Whether it was working with the charities and the many people involved in that process or simply taking over the family business (which would not have been possible had my father not already laid a great foundation for it to grow), I see that everything I did successfully came about as a result of a team effort and an appropriate spirit of mission. That means that together with my teams I participated in a common spirit or drive that united us in one mentality and helped us to move forward in positive growth. As Sun Tzu said, “He will win whose army is animated with the same spirit throughout all its rank.”[footnoteRef:5] My colleagues and friends and helpers in the charities with which I have worked have always been like my spirited army. We look to make the biggest and best impact we can in our workplace environment and we look to see how we can better communities through architectural design and urban activities, such as a restoration of the arts, which help to inspire new generations to pursue a greater good for each other and their community. [5: Sun Tzu, The Art of War (NY: CreateSpace, 2007), 37.]

I view virtue as one of the most precious things that we have in this life — a great practice that enables us to reach out and build on that which our ancestors have done to make life good for us. It is not our place to stop that chain of growth and simply bask in their successes but rather we have to carry on the tradition of virtuous activity so that there is an example set for the next generation. Virtue must also be present in our activities because without it the problems and obstacles that crop up will not be viewed as opportunities, but rather as walls around which we cannot get around. The simple example of Operation Smile is enough to show how something as simple as helping children with cleft lips can change the way the world thinks about itself and make life more complete.

In conclusion, when I look back on my life and my career as a leader in my business, I see a steady movement upwards that began in my desire to be a righteous person — one less interested in self and personal gain than in what I could do for others. This desire to help others and to be socially responsible is the greatest virtue I have cultivated and to it I owe a great deal of my success: without this virtue and ethical mindset I would not have had the capacity to achieve so much in my lifetime — everything would have been wasted and squandered. Instead, I saw every opportunity to build and grow as an opportunity in which I could give something back to the world. In this manner, I strove to serve as a positive example for others and to lead the way forward to a brighter future.


Confucius. The Analects of Confucius. Internet Archive, Book 4 — Le Jin. Web. 18 Dec


Machiavelli, Nicolo. The Pirince. Gutenberg. Web. 18 Dec 2015

Safdie, Moshe. “Building Uniqueness,” TED, 2002. Web. 18 Dec 2015

Socrates. Gorgias, Internet Archive. Web. 18 Dec 2015.

Sun Tzu. The Art of War. NY: Create Space, 2010.

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