[This paper is written in ugly globish, treating about globish thoughts. Pardon all the poor solecisms I’ve done here and how many times I hurt the beautifull English language !]
This morning, as I was checking my mails on Linkedin, I fortuitously saw this graph about top leader’s qualities. And who knows why, it was one too many for me ! I must confess however that my classicist mindset have been suffering silently for years.
But before discussing the heart of the issue as I see it, have a word on the form.
Are we so simple-minded we need a picture ?
I’m sure that you’re now used to seeing, just like me, this kind of synthetic diagrams, pretending to respond to all sort of complex matters with geometric patterns, nicely drawned along with a handeful of simplistic and polysemous chosen words. It’s always clear, quite mere and almost infantile.
Do not get me wrong : research in human sciences are legitimate and crucial.
You did not see it coming, me neither, but leading is a heptagon ! Seven sides, just like the ptolemaic seven spheres and metals maybe, or the septiuium of artes liberales or even the number of grades in orphic cults ? Unless it stands for the heads of Lern’s hydra or for the neoplatonician Postel’s candelabrum ? More seriously, it probably makes more sense to attribute this choice to the famous congnitive science paper «Magical Number Seven» by George Armitage Miller.
Philosophia et septem artes liberales – Picture from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century)
Obviously, the author will skillfully explain in his book how to inspire, how to lead, how to grow, etc. Without any doubt, he will develop his thinking, offer many exemples in addition to his complete mastery of storytelling and give us the benefit of his long experience.
But ultimately, when we will get down to the details, consider the accuracy of the reasoning, the false mirror of simplicity will once again shatter in a thousand pieces.
How indeed can we assume that any views on any topic will not engender controversy and potential argument, even in hard sciences ? How to consider «care» as a closed matter ? Who can trust there is a clear-cut recipe for inspiring people, just like there were victorian charlatan’s elixirs wich claimed : «one cure for all situations».
Quantum Elixir- by Pat Linse
How to explain this recent keen interest and infatuation for schematic explainations ? Why pretend so often human sciences problematics may become simple when they always are intricate ?
There are really two answers to the question : you want to sell elixirs or you put the humanist and classic cultures behind you.
As it’s not my intention to charge the author with unfair assertions, I will opt for the second proposal.
How to be a top leader ? Really ?
The author felt necessary to specify well he is talking about future chiefs competences. This means certainly that past leaders and their outdated conceptions could not be effective leaders in our smart forthcoming world.
Are we so satisfied of modern men management that we can despise the past ? Can somebody consider himself happy with the current world’s affairs ? Are occidental top leaders so popular that they can follow the same road they are on ? Will they continue to listen the same self-appointed advisors ?
Something tells me that nobody really wants to see the birth of a new neo-management and even less be under its rules. Excepted top managers off course.
No one around me can bear them by now : the ingineer who’s told what to do by a guy who hardly understands highschool sciences, the physician compelled to alter his medical cares owning to managerial supervision, the researcher forced to deal with administrative concerns at the expense of his precious work, the outraged cops giving fines on command to increase general statistics…
Here, another illustration from my own experience : I’m a teacher in high school and my job has long been management-free. It seemed that no one has to complain, neither pupills nor parents. A decade ago, things changed and managers made their appearence. Today, in teachers restroom you can often see poeple crying of depsair, or explode in an outcry of anger and resentment. Is the students’ behavior the cause of those mental collapses ? The parents always asking for more ? No. Most burn outs or resigns in our profession come from institutionnal management and from their local small chiefs whose arbitrary powers lately increased without mesure. Today, no one wants to teach anymore and our gouvernement struggles to recruit.
You could easily add to the list of management failures, ad nauseam.
More generally, thousands of employees are pretending to agree with managerial practices so they can keep their job and hope for an advancement.
Being a management false devout opens doors, but it’s a scene where everybody is faking.
In fact, nobody really believes in management virtues, either because wage earners experience it as a coercion or because people feel things are definitivly more complex.
Management is not the art of leading, it’s a mere means of subjection.
Leading is the ablility to ensure concord among very various wills. Management is a method to bend wills to the decision makers wows.
So, I’ll be fair : I will not discuss here how to be a great leader but only how to be a great manager. Maybe a top manager has to inspire, improve, care, develop, grow, explore, lead, execute and innovate (Wait ! It’s not seven but nine qualities ! Leading is an enneagon ! A playfull reference to Plotin I assume…), it could be for the best, I do not really know.
The truth, as I see it, is that even in management, managers have poor views.
Instead of a misleadingly simple polygon with more or less defined qualities, I’ll only offer two complex capacities, with no recipe : have uncommon empathic skills and have no wishes to rule over others.
The most underrated French philosopher, Alain, wrote in propos sur les pouvoirs : «The most obvious trait of character of a good man is that he does not want to rule over others, he only wants to rule over himself. That is the decissive point. This is to say that the worst will rule.1»
This twentieth century sentence is the heir of centuries of classical tradtition’s debates. As we wonder how to generate top leaders, we miss now the most important point : to avoid tyrant and unhealthy people.
In addition, if you choose that one man, a top leader so, have to decide for the common good, even in buisness, you have to make sure that his appetites serve well the general interest. Who’s so foolish to put in charge a starving wolf to keep lambs ?
Then you’ll say, and you’ll be right : « How can we teach such a quality ? How a man can learn virtue ? »
The answer is not a dodecagone, the answer is that we do not know how. At the most, we have some leads.
We can not sell elixirs.
The second skill, the uncommon empathy, suffers the same deficit. We do not know for sure how to enhance it.
However, it is clear that you can not effectivly lead without forcasting how poeple will react or feel. You can always ask for help from cognitive behavioral sciences, from all kinds of cognitive studies, you will always be a poor user of their precious recommendations without empathy.
Why have we forgotten those two simple things about leadership ? The fault has to be shared, but as I see it for now, classicists failed to disprove modern pseudo human sciences, just as they failed in promoting classics.
The time has now come for classicists to reconquer the land they conceded. We never found a better way to educate humans to humanity, and consequently to leadership, than the patient and lowly study of classics.
PS : With all due apologies to Andreas von der Heydt. I do not know him and have nothing mean to say about him. In order to be forgiven, I’ll buy and read his book.
1 «Le trait le plus visible dans l’homme juste est de ne point vouloir du tout gouverner les autres, et de se gouverner seulement lui-même. Cela décide tout. Autant dire que les pires gouverneront.» in Propos sur les pouvoirs : éléments d’une doctrine radicale. 1925, Paris.