Thursday, 23 March 2017

A leader for our times - the invisible leader

Lent 2017: Day 23 

At the halfway mark; 23 more days to go until Easter.

An interesting quote I came across in an article I was editing:
A leader is best
When people barely know he exists,
Not so good when people obey and acclaim him
Worse when they despise him,
But of a good leader, who talks little
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled
They will all say “We did it ourselves” 
—  Lao Tzu 
In 6th Century BC, this simple definition of a what makes a wise ruler had been set out. Yet two and half thousand years later, we can easily spot those leaders that are obeyed and acclaimed and those who are merely despised.

I like Lao Tzu's vision of the modest leader who's invisibly present at the epicentre of many overlapping networks, encouraging rather than goading.

Bad leaders, with loud mouths and toxic personalities - and there are many in business and politics - may be perceived as 'strong', but tend to be divisive and their over confidence and inflated self-esteem means they cannot acknowledge their errors and distance themselves from mistaken policies.

The good leader, less visible, is prepared to learn from mistakes and move on quickly in a more suitable direction. A valid U-turn is better than marching over the precipice.

The bad leader sets out a worldview where mistrust is the default position. Mistrust is expensive. It is a less costly policy to trust by default, switching to mistrust only in cases when someone has abused that trust.

Understanding 'win-win' in politics and economics is crucial. Too many leaders in business and politics see a zero-sum game, in which I win, they lose. This leads to adversarial relations, which in the long term lead to a worse outcome than win-win. [This can be easily proved by repeated rounds of the Prisoners' Dilemma; those playing a cooperate-cooperate strategy, defaulting on the player that quits win-win, then retaliating until that player returns to playing win-win.]. The lump-sum of labour fallacy, which posits that for one person to get a job, another has to lose it, is regularly trotted out by populists whose voters fail to understand that economies grow as new jobs are created.

I see these negative traits in many of today's political leaders. Not a step backward, keen to blame all around them but themselves, aiming to grab the levers of power for their own sake, rather than offering a vision of a trust-based society that gets on with their lives with a minimum of top-down interference.

Business learns from mistakes faster than politicians. After the hubris of the global banking crisis, companies have learnt that sustainability and resilience are more important than short-term profit. The network is evolutionarily superior to the hierarchy; if the hierarch makes the wrong policy decision the results can be hard to rectify, given the hierarch's reluctance to accept responsibility and desire to shift the blame elsewhere. Politicians respond to the voters; businesses to their shareholders. Shareholders, concerned about the safety of their capital, are more rational than voters, who are easily swayed by rhetoric. Business leaders who can now demonstrate a longer-term view of shareholder value than those prepared to screw future prospects for the sake of the next quarter's figures are seen as the better bet.

This time three years ago:
Warsaw's abandoned goods station;

This time four years ago:
Social justice - the Church and inequality

This time five years ago:
Google Street View comes to Poland

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