Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Leadersip

Leadership excites interest at all levels of human interaction.  Whether consciously sought and established, as through a democratic election or subconsciously instituted, by tradition and usages, as is the example of parents leading a household, or even, imposed over the led through brazen coercion and infliction of fearful autocracy, the leader's mantle is regarded with rousing passion, quiet, appreciative acceptance and some aversion. 

Some willingly subject themselves to their leaders, fawning over them and risking their own comfort, to defend and promote the reputation and interest of their sovereign.  Generally, however, majorities everywhere can barely tell the difference between one leader or another: they have much more immediate personal concerns to attend to, and the sovereign has enough resources at his disposal to not only fend off his troubles, but also to get his way, anyway.  A sizeable minority will feel subjugated and oppressed by the authorities, and will sour the commune with their ceaseless rants, gripes and anguished whines.

Whether to love and consort with, or hate and fear leadership is a matter well settled by Niccolo Machiaveli.

The prism of mind sieves and sorts the ray of leadership into a wide spectrum of technicolour strips, at the beginning and end of which are vision and vocation.  And rarely does it happen that a single person, as  leader, possesses a wide enough temperament to encompass both extremes.  In the paragraphs that follow, I attempt to cross the breadth of this frith.

a). Visionary leaders are strategic in their thinking: they weave one desired direction or destination for their realm, and are focused on large steps that, though in themselves appear unco-ordinated, lead to the one end.  Visionaries invent solutions to pressing barriers to progress.  They roam and range with the wind, and dare to interpret what mere mortals have difficulty thinking about. 

To be visionary not only requires a deep appreciation of the wishes and desires of society, short-term sacrifice, and a lot of patient action, but also, and far more importantly, the inculcation of a saintly self-discipline, the will to plod on an unrelenting uphill track in the fog that is human prediction of future reality.  It calls for consistent inconsistency - a flexible willingness and ability to reconsider general opinion in new light with changing times. It demands an enduring adaptability to circumstances as they unfold, and undying hope, with the one visionary aim as the ultimate beacon.

The visionary leader seeks the true germ of things; he carves new footholds and leads the risky walk up the cliff of intuition, guiding humanity on the journey it must take, in the sun-glazed direction of progress that it must face, thereby engraving his legacy to leave the world in the state it ought to be. He seeks inspiration and new thought, and sieves through old ideas for linking principles and the spirit that animates them all. A visionary uses his goal as his life's purpose, and were he to encounter constraints and bottlenecks, responsibly swallows the bitter pill of failure if he is thwarted in his endeavour. 

However, vision is the most callousing of work, tiring the body and wearing the mind; it drinks effort and gobbles gluttonous chunks of time to actualize. The masses being impatient, seeking the quickest of fixes and relying on the approbation of others, are easily swayed and distracted from deep, esoteric ideas. 

Anyhow, because they take gambles, daring to challenge established norms and behaviour, visionaries make courageous leaders, who wear new paths and walk at the head of the pack.  Without a script, except the call of destiny, they establish causes and rally the masses to rise to the challenges of their remaining days and beyond.  They hatch progress from unborn time.

b). Vocational leaders draw out and perform what must be done immediately.  They think tactically, and operationalize visions.  They aim to deliver on ideals, one ladder rung at a time, and seek effectiveness and efficiency in their work.  Vocational leaders are professional: being very consistent and methodical, and relying on their vast knowledge and expertise.  They achieve objectives by applying the power of their passion to their tasks.  They revel in the process of getting the work done, excellently. 

Professionals create procedures, standards, rules and guiding principles to foster efficiency and quality, reduce avoidable error and increase productivity, saving on resource misapplication. They are innovators who relish the challenge of directing diverse effort to the accomplishment of each new task. Excellence and consistency require much concentration, and much devotion to duty.  These values call for control and focused direction of the powers of man.  Professionals trust that if something can be done, it must be done well. 
This focus on detail can be distracting on large, linked processes, but is the driver of all progress.  Because of their insistence on procedure, professionals make very good implementors: managers and workers.  They lead, like shepherds of the flock in the fields, from behind, and deliver every time. Their insistence on rules and procedures may hurt inventive thought, and lock out some individuals from contributing in ways that are non-conformative. 

The true professional works with the world as it is, facing his most immediate challenges first, and working to avoid all occurences that have, by the universal suffrage of antiquity, been found wanting and measly in their contribution to progress.  Significantly, vocational leaders must have a cause established before them, a path wrought for them to walk on; a way walked before for them, a hill climbed aforetime, a chasm spanned, for them to recount its story and estimate its worth on the golden scales of history. This debt to past heroism they repay by standardizing processes, marking out pitfalls, blocking dangerous detours and generally enhancing the safe flow of traffic on the highways of human advancement, howsoever steep and convoluted they may be.

It follows rationaly, that while visionaries are the true leaders, designers of principle; the professionals, the managers, are the interpreters and weavers to visibility, of the threads of wisdom.  When the visionary says that there exists cotton fluff that can be woven into thread and worked on a loom to create cloth, the professionals plant the cotton, pick it, sort the fluff, work the loom and weave the shirt.  Without the 'professional', the shirt would remain a concept of the mind.  Without the visionary concept, cotton would remain a wild plant.

My nation needs both leaders, obviously.  But, perhaps, in an age of timid men and overused principle, we need a few more brave hearts, to follow their bliss and walk out of the cradle; perhaps, to raise the antennae of their minds to far off corners of the universe and transmit home new ideas that will inspire others to venture out and break ground on the vast virgin fields of this nation.

Were I to choose, I think of listening out for something worthwhile.
We have enough expert workers, don't you agree?

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