Thursday, November 09, 2006

On the Fundamentals of Leadership

Some time ago during a discussion with a friend of mine, we came upon the subject of leadership. I've since been meaning to compile my thoughts on the subject into a post for this blog, so as to more easily and freely distribute it to those who would wish to read it. That having been said, let us begin.

Although I usually hold to the belief that actions, not motives, are of interest, in the case of leadership I will make an exception in so far as to the ascension of the leader. Many seek leadership for the sake of power itself rather than a belief that there is a demand to be filled. This is something which more people need to be aware of when electing their leadership, because a leader who is primarily motivated by a hunger for power is more likely to do whatever it takes to stay in power. On the other hand, a true leader is someone who ascends to leadership because of a perceived need within the community of which he is part. A true leader also works to further talent in others, and will work towards replacing himself with someone better than himself, if such an opportunity should arise. Therefore, motives are important because they will effect the actions of the leader once instated.

Some of you may have noticed that this indirectly implies that the leader should be in possession of at least an modicum of humility. The realization that you are not infallible is something about which I've talked before. Often great leaders appear to lack this humility, yet their actions testify of it. A good leader plans for all eventualities, and is always ready to revise his principles or perceptions in light of new evidence. You can't expect to make good decisions if you aren't well informed, and you can't expect to be well informed unless you keep an open mind. Once you start to try and read things into the information you are given, you start to make bad decisions. Having said this, I still feel it is of utmost importance that you know who or what you are up against, as it helps you determine the true value of the information you are in possession of. It's a tight line to walk, between applying knowledge and reading things into the intelligence, but it is essential to all leadership.

From the subject of humility and a critical examining of the facts at hand we arrive quite naturally at the subject of taking action. As I said to begin with, in most cases the actions are relevant, not the reasoning behind them. So it is in the actual application of knowledge upon the task at hand in order to make informed decisions. Your motives are not relevant, and as such you should not focus on motivating your actions according to any moral code. The outcome of the actions is the only thing of relevance to good leadership. Bear in mind that you won't always have the time to make all the plans you would like. Often you need to make split second decisions without time to consult all the intelligence you might want to. Therefore any leader must be able to take action even under the worst of circumstances, and work towards correcting his decisions after they've been put into effect. Yet many such situations can be controlled through contingency plans and other failsafety mechanisms. Once again, the more plans you lay beforehand, the better off you are, even when the unexpected happens.

I feel I need to still elaborate a bit on the subject of planning. When making plans, one should not simply plan one or two steps ahead. Plans which do not foresee the end of the line are of little use, as we can not say whether the plan will lead to the end result we want. Therefore always strive to plan for the whole of the objective, this way you can not only better foresee what is going to happen, but better react when it does. You may also be assured that your plan is always a good one in that you know it is capable of success. Even so, the best of plans is only valid until battle commences. Once things are put into motion, it is nearly always sure to fail. When it fails, the leader must move swiftly to correct his miscalculations and steer his cause back on track to success. Therefore never blindly trust in plans.

Throughout the years much has been said about the act of leading. It is, in all brevity, the act of taking the lead. Although much of leadership is done in preparation for the actual act, the way of the act of leading is simple. Stand at the head of the pack, and your followers have no choice but to follow. Leadership is the act of creating followers, and nothing more.

Yet how to conduct oneself when leading? The first distinction which is important to make is whether you've chosen your followers, or whether they've chosen you. If you choose your followers, you can demand of them what you believe is necessary. If your followers choose you, they expect of you what is necessary, yet you are working on their referendum and as such may be hampered in what you are able to do. Therefore, it is always preferable to choose your own followers.

For the act of leading, discipline is very important. If your commands are not adhered to you can not expect to successfully lead anything. Therefore you can not tolerate insubordination. Freedom of expression is one thing, people do not like to be told what to think or say, but when a command is issued none can be allowed to go against it. If people believe they can defy you without consequence, you will spend more time trying to herd them in the direction you want than deciding the direction. Your movements as a unit will slow, you will be ungainly and unable to execute any plans laid out. Many believe that an organization becomes naturally ungainly as it grows in size, yet I can't agree with this point. As the organization grows, if the discipline is good and a clear hierarchy exists within the organization, commands can be carried swiftly and precisely to the base, and thus plans can be implemented at great speed. Therefore, discipline is the key.

In order to be able to uphold a sufficient level of discipline a leader may often have to make himself less than popular. For this there are remedies however. In order to keep the morale up it is often good to have a figurehead leader with token powers within the organization. The figurehead is everyones friend in the organization, and could never be entrusted to punish anyone. Luckily, they do not need to. Infact, the perfect figurehead is one who does nothing. The figurehead seldom knows he or she is considered to be such a person, and may even try to interfere in the runnings of the alliance. As such, the actions of the figurehead need often be monitored, and when detrimental, undone. In short, the figurehead is the modern incarnation of the Jester, the court clown.

If all these points are adhered to, success is a reasonable expectation.


Post a Comment

<< Home