The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Some Thoughts on Leadership

I often wonder why people need, or even desire, a leader. In times of woe and misery, instead of turning inward, people seem to cry out for someone to save them. To lead them out of the wilderness. It's yet another mystery I cannot solve.

I was raised to not look for others to extricate me from my problems. the constant refrain was "Don't come to me with your problems." Since most, if not all, my problems were of my own making, it was up to me to work through them. That did not mean I could not seek advice or counsel; that I could not learn from others. It simply meant that I was the one who had to make the decisions and determine my own course.

Not that I was very good at it, mind you. I often found myself in deeper muck than when I started. Some say that it's the best way to learn... by making mistakes. I am not so sure.

Still, I never became much of a follower.

When I was still working, we were given a new Operations Manager. He was a former Ford engineer of some sort where he was likely just another cog in the machine and AT&T gave him the opportunity to be a bit more. To wit, run our office. If he did well, he'd be on his way... if he didn't he'd be sent on his way... if you get my drift.

In any event, when he came to our office he held one of those meetings where we would get to know him and he could size us up as we sized him up. Fairly fresh from getting his MBA, he had all the buzzwords and managing techniques fresh in his mind. He still believed in them as he hadn't had a chance to actually try them out in the Real World.

He asked us all, in turn, "Who do you work for?"

The answer to this would give him, I suppose, some idea of how we viewed our place in the scheme of things. We were expected to rattle off our immediate supervisors whereupon he would make some pitch about how we worked for the company and/or the customer, yadda, yadda, yadda.

So I said "Myself."

After a second or two of silence while he placed me in the "this guy is gonna be trouble" category, he encouraged me to elaborate.

It is simple... I am a harder taskmaster for myself than any boss I ever had. I get paid by the company and they assign me work but I am the one who decides how I go about it.

This has always been my way. It has made me a poor team member at times. It makes me a rotten follower. It does not make me a good leader either.

It also raises the question of why do we, as a species, seek out leaders? Many times in our collective history, following a leader has been the poor decision to make. Consider Germany and Italy in the 30's. Blindly following the Emperor in Japan didn't turn out too well either.

Julius Caesar set a standard for Rome in terms of how it was to be run. From a republic to a dictatorship. Some of the emperors were good, some were bad. People tend to forget that Rome lasted another 400 years after Caesar's assassination.

The problem of inadvertently selecting a bad leader is eased a bit by democratic governments with regular plebiscites. After all, the problem can be corrected at the next election. Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Much depends upon the quality of the candidate opposing the incumbent leader.

Still, I see way too many people in this world all too willing to elect (and re-elect) "strongmen" to lead them. They are also all too willing to follow the lead of someone who is a disaster for the society. We do not seem to learn from history.

Those of us who eschew leaders will always be puzzled by those who do not.

Thomas Paine once said:

"Lead, follow, or get out of the way."

I prefer to get out of the way.



MilesPerHour said...

I hear you Douglas. As a manager myself I have to lead. And manage. I actually provide leadership. I think there are many ways to look at it. This coming from somebody who prefers that others get out of my way. Especially poor leaders.

As a recovering person I have learned that I needed what they call in AA, a sponsor. A mentor and role model to help lead me out of my addiction and it's detructive behaviors. He was not someone who solved my problems.

I don't want to make this a post unto itself so I will finish with my own philosophy on the subject, "To be a good leader, ytou have to be a good follower".

Douglas said...

MPH - A mentor is someone who helps you find your way. He (or she) does not tell you how to find your way. I think to be a good leader you must first want to lead. But not all leaders are good for those they lead. A lot depends on why one wants to lead. My purpose in this piece is not to question leadership but the willingness to be led. It is often blind, a ceding of responsibility, a weakness, and done out of fear of the unknown. I am not a good follower and do not want to lead.

Neo said...

I will say this much, even leaders are followers to an extent.

Douglas said...

Neo - Which is pretty much what MPH said and countless people have told me (usually in a frustrated tone). It may be that I am a lousy follower. I can live with that. I have no desire to be a leader either.