May you live in interesting times – The Joker versus The Thief

Interesting times indeed.

Watching the dual between Putin and Obama would be instructive (and amusing) if the consequences of the battle were not so dire.  Both are amoral, both are ideologically wrong, and both are tragic second-handers whose self-image is based on what others think.  It’s a fight that can only end in tears all around.

Young Putin V Obama 1.2

No matter who wins, we don’t.

In one corner you have Obama, the protected species; untouchable.  An inexperienced amateur bumbling his way through somehow, glossing the mess over with his silver tongue, and getting a hand-up from mainstream journalists raised on the same liberal-leftist fare, for whom Obama is the flag-bearer.

He’s got a good percentage (perhaps half) of the US electorate behind him, not because they share an ideology (they’re either too stupid or too skeptical to speak of ideology), but because they share in the loot that Obama and his cronies are dishing out.

He’s got Europe on side, though increasingly reluctantly.  They know somehow that he’s a fraud, but he’s only doing now what they’ve been admonishing America to do for decades.  Careful what you wish for – you might get it.

In the other corner is Putin, a professional bureaucrat, raised on subterfuge; a hard-nose bully.

And he is the hardest kind of bully.  Most, when someone finally stands up and slaps them down, shrink in shame and self-pity.  Putin though, is the rarer breed.  He means it and he’s tough.  You could whack him to the point of concussion and he’d still drag himself up and fight on.  The tighter the corner you back him into, the harder he’ll fight.  Worst of all, his small-penis-compensatory machismo endears him to a large majority of his countrymen, most likely because it embodies their own national insecurity; their yearning for the Motherland to be strong and prominent once more.

Third-man in is Europe… well, really Germany, who, as the “economic engine” increasingly dictates EU policy.  They would love to take Putin down; the echoes of 1938 are loud and frighteningly clear.  But, the principled stand required would leave them cold.  Literally.  Russia controls enough of their energy supply to make their winters very uncomfortable and very expensive.  For a generation raised on the pillow of welfare and under the blanket of US security, that kind of hardship is unthinkable.  And throwing principles like national sovereignty, justice, and honor under the bus in the name of “keeping the peace” is easy for a culture so thoroughly steeped in post-modern relativism.  When it’s “your truth” versus “my truth”, apathy, pragmatism and compromise reign supreme.

So how will it play out?

Russia may take Eastern Ukraine, make incursions into the “Stans”, start sniffing at Belarus; but these “geographic plays” are secondary.  The primary weapon Russia holds is financial.  The USD is on the brink of losing it’s status as the world’s reserve counterfeit money currency.  If Putin initiates acceptance of other currencies in payment for oil and gas, that will push the USD into the abyss.  It will be like removing the bottom-most layer in the house-of-cards that is our global monetary system.

My guess is the only reason that hasn’t yet happened, by Russian or any other hand (say, the Chinese), is that the resultant economic crash and societal chaos will make the Great Depression look benign.  Even the worst of bullies are loath to start a fire that is likely to burn them too.

But if Obama et al. continue to up the ante, sooner or later their bluff will be called.  And if they back-off, and “The West” capitulates, letting Russia off the hook this time (sacrificing some of Russia’s near neighbors in the process), the Sword of Damocles that is our massive, debt-driven ponzi-scheme of a monetary system will still be hanging by the thinnest of threads.  It will then be the next “crisis” in the Middle East, China or maybe even the US, that brings it crashing down.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, when the dust has settled, a good deal of your wealth is gone, and we’re resigned to a new era of dark-ages-like toil and hardship for “the masses”, don’t worry about Barry and Vlad.  They’ll no doubt be enjoying a little time-out together on Barry’s Hawaiian estate or Vlad’s Moscovy Dacha, with some of their pals from the UN, the IMF, and the World Bank.

Joker and Thief

A people get the leader they deserve.

Ayn Rand once observed that a people get the leader they deserve.  Personally, I find that in Obama and Putin that rings sadly true – the US has become frivolous, complacent, and image-obsessed; a Joker, while Russia is a force-driven, jingoistic bully with a chip on its shoulder; a thief.

Stiffness is Death

Organizational leadership takes place in one of two contexts.

Either…

The organization is heading to new heights – it’s a start-up, or an existing organization that’s reached a plateau.  It needs a Visionary to take it to new and uncharted territory.

Or…

The organization is sinking in the depths; in the shit, as it were.  It needs a strong and resolute leader with experience and courage to save it.  It needs a Savior.

The expertise required may be different, and the motivation for each may vary, but each role still requires the same fundamental leadership attributes:   independence (to judge and make decisions); people skills (to engage, delegate, and motivate); expertise (to know what to do and how to do it); and passion (to care enough to make the effort and stay the course).

Some would argue that there is a third context, the organization that’s just humming along, neither growing, nor under threat.  I would counter that if an organization is not growing, it’s stagnating.  And if its stagnating, it’s dying.   It’s competitors will soon take its position.  If there are none, there soon will be.  Such an organization better be lead by a Visionary soon, or it will need a Savior soon.

Here’s the thing… it’s occurring to me now, as of course it would, that those two contexts, let’s call them “fighting to survive” and “scaling new heights” are mirrored in our own individual lives.  The vicissitudes of life are such that we are either overcoming challenges, emotional and/existential, that is, we’re working to save or preserve some value or values that we already possess, or; we’re working to create for ourselves and those we love some new values.  The in-between, the drifting along without significant challenge (time for R&R notwithstanding), is as dangerous for an individual as it is for an organization.  Don’t move and you’ll get stiff. And, as my Sifu is fond of saying, “stiffness is death”.

Where is your organization at?  And how about you?  Struggling to remain a going concern or pursuing exciting new challenges?

Remember, the status-quo is dangerous, because the Universe never stands still.  So, neither should you, and neither should the organization(s) you’re a part of.

More soon…

I’m hoping to get back to regular writing and posting soon.  In the meantime, you might like to check out the links in the sidebar at right – there’s plenty to read that I hope you’ll enjoy and benefit from.

I’m staying active on Twitter, so please feel free to join in: follow @MethodLead

Sorry.  Really I am.  (Pic: The Objective Image - MPJ)

Off topic – apology.

To the regular readers of the Method Leadership blog (both of you), sorry posting has been light.

I’ve good news and bad.

The bad is that I have several commitments at present that are preventing me from writing, blogging, even tweeting, anywhere near as much as I’d like.  Well, at all, really.

The good news is that I’m missing all of the above and have big plans to get back to the keyboard in earnest as soon as things like home-building, moving, getting more education, and earning a crust the hard way are taking up less time.

More soon,

Michael

If you think leadership is about having followers – about influencing others – you’re wrong.

I’M HAVING A continuing problem with what I call “The Cult of Leadership”.  Take five minutes to look around the web and you’ll note how almost all material on leadership focuses on having followers, on leading others, on “influence”.

This not only mis-characterizes good leadership, it’s just plain bad advice.   You cultivate the attributes of good leadership not in a quest to lead others, but because the fundamentals of good leadership are vital to success and happiness, whether an organization’s or your own.

Here’s a pretty representative sampling:

Peter Drucker (Management Guru): “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”

Rubbish.  Hitler had lots of followers and look how that turned out.

John Maxwell (Leadership Guru): “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

Bollocks.  Mao influenced hundreds of millions.  All dead.

Kevin Kruse (Forbes):  Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.

Better, but still wrong.  What if the goal is a bad one?  And what about all those innovators and entrepreneurs who work on great things all on their own?

So, here’s a proper definition:

Good leadership means choosing the right objective, the best way to reach it, and inspiring others to join you.

Vision first and always as the primary.

Then strategy and tactics.

No “influence”, because you can influence by force, by fraud, by intimidation, or by blackmail;  none of which makes for thinking, value-adding followers.  Others should “follow” because they’re inspired by what you’ve set-out to achieve and how you’re going about it.  Period.

Getting others to follow your lead may be important, but NEVER let it become your primary focus.  Your primary focus is, and should always be,  to achieve a Vision, to create value.  The means of achieving that Vision, which is where engaging other people comes in, are secondary (not unimportant – just not primary).

The moment you lose sight of the Vision, or it becomes blurred, and you act primarily to keep or attract followers, to lead other people, you risk taking yourself, and those who follow you, in the wrong direction.

Then there’s the fact that along with your responsibility to be accountable for your own life, you need to allow (and encourage), others to be accountable for theirs. Good leadership means thinking for yourself, developing an understanding of the human condition, (how people think, feel, and behave), constantly seeking to expand your horizons, and pursuing value for all you’re worth.

The element of leadership that entails others following is a byproduct.

Thinking people choose to engage with you in achieving your Vision because they’re inspired by the picture you paint and by the way you go about achieving it; by how you go about creating value, and because you engage with them justly.

Yes, some people enjoy the act of leading other people, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Unless it’s the primary. Anyone motivated to lead by the desire to have followers, to have power over others, is likely going in the wrong direction. You don’t achieve a vision by looking back (at those that are following), but by keeping your eye on the goal and moving forward. You have to be driven by what’s in front, not by those that are following behind.

The focus on “leading”, rather than on achieving (and continuously refining and evolving) a vision, is perhaps the biggest cause of organizational failure.

It’s the trap new supervisors often fall into when they take on their first management role.

It’s why middle-managers can stumble when they take on a new department or division.

It’s the quicksand entrepreneurs often wade into when their venture gains momentum.

It’s the failing of many a “career CEO” who moves into an unknown field.

It’s the reason so many NGOs become navel-gazing, self-serving, resource-consuming bureaucracies with no clear, focused, and defining mission.

And it’s caused untold death and misery as militaristic despots throughout history sought political power for self-aggrandization.

Don’t worry about leading others.

Foster your independence by thinking well, work on your people skills so that you engage with others well and fairly, be proactive in expanding your knowledge and skills, and work to stay passionate about all that you undertake.

And if you don’t have a compelling vision, or the vision of the organization you work for leaves you cold, the last thing you should be focusing on is leading others. If you don’t know what you want to achieve, or can’t get behind what your employer is trying to achieve, it’s time to re-assess your life’s direction. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, flog a dead horse. I guarantee you that the pain of changing will be less than the pain of stagnation.  And don’t, EVER, lead for the sake of leading.  Lead only when you’ve got some good place to go.

Principle

4 Indispensible Principles for Good Leadership

PEOPLE TALK ABOUT having “principles”, but few seem to be guided by their principles consistently, because it’s just too easy to make exceptions.  The thing is, if you don’t follow your principles in every case, they’re not principles.

Understood and accepted as non-violable, your principles become your “rock” – a steadfast guide to action even when circumstances are difficult, conflicting, or hard to discern.  Good leaders, and good people, understand this; they know that sticking to the right principles is indispensable to success, and therefore also to happiness.

Here’s four principles that all good leaders, (and good people, for that matter,) stick to.

#1 My Judgement Rules
Good leaders (and good people) know that they are always fully accountable for what they do, so they never relinquish judgement to others.  Sure, they listen, take advice, learn from others, and consult.  What they don’t do, however, is take another’s word, opinion, dictate, or judgement as given.  Never.  To put it another way:  “The buck stops here, so you better @#$%-well know the real buck inside and out”.

Example:  Steve Jobs in any number or situations springs to mind.

#2 Good Relationships Depend on Justice
Good leaders (and good people) understand that only relationships based on justice will thrive.  To deal with people justly means to always and only give (and accept) what is deserved.  To withhold praise and reward from those who add value is just as bad as bestowing the same on those who do not, or on those who, even worse, destroy value.

The latter is called “spoiling”, and as Rand once pointed out, there’s no quicker and surer way to destroy a human soul than to give it more than it deserves.  Conversely, withhold  reward from those who’ve rightly earned it, and they’ll not be around for long.  They’ll go where their talent is recognized and valued, and righty so.

Example:  The “brain drain” from any number of politically stifling (and unjust) nations to the freer countries in “The West”.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s dispel a couple of widely held (and very unjust) bromides (anti-principles, if you will):  “Unconditional Love” and “Universal Forgiveness“.

Good leaders (and good people) understand that those who demand “unconditional love” are asking you to commit fraud.  Love is simply one end of the scale that measures how you value something or someone (hate → dislike → ambivalence → like → love).  Your emotional response to anything or anyone needs to be just, that is, needs to be in keeping with how much you value (or disvalue) the thing or person.  To give love “unconditionally”, is to disregard justice.  Do so at your own peril.

Forgiveness has it’s place, of course, but also needs to be just.  The guilty must earn forgiveness.  How?  Three things:  They must show sincere contrition (simply saying “sorry” is not enough), they need to make good on the damage they did, and they should make a binding commitment to doing better from now on.  Forgiving someone, “just because”, is unfair on, and bad for, both of you.

Now, back to organizational leadership…

Organizations, by definition, rely on relationships, so its critical that justice is the principle that drives the relationships.  So many organizations founder because dysfunctional (unjust) relationships tie them in knots.  Jealousy, envy, favoritism, obsequiousness, sociopathy, and a host of other organization ills thrive because justice is absent.  Incompetents with connections wield power, talent languishes or leaves, obsequious sycophants who look good in a suit keep the corner offices warm, and fraudsters with acting skills line their pockets.  Absent justice, relationships are based on all manner of pretense.  In that kind of culture, all sorts of crap can grow.

Example:  Too many to mention.  How about Enron?  Bear Stearns?  Penn State?

#3 Learning Never Stops and Comes From Anywhere and Everywhere
With this principle firmly understood and integrated, you’re open to expanding your horizons every day, every hour, every minute.Learning is Joy

Yet, how many managers, bosses, parents, or acquaintances do you know who seem to think that they know everything already?  Ugh, the dreaded “know it all”….deal with that kind as little as you can, they’re a vexation to your soul!

Example?  I bet you have a dozen such people in your life.  Name one.

#4 Be Passionate
Whatever you do, give it 100% of your attention and effort.  If you can’t, or worse, won’t, don’t do it.

Passion does not mean “loving” what you do.  It means “valuing” what you do.  Hopefully, most of the time it is about love and enjoyment, but don’t forget that some things that are not fun still need 100% or your focus and your best effort; because they’re worth it.  George Washington no doubt hated that winter at Valley Forge, but his passion for the fledgling America held strong, guiding him through times and circumstances that would have driven a non-principled, dispassionate man to give up.

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Principles are not for “now and then”.  And they are not just for titled-leaders.  It is not a coincidence that the fundamental principles that make for good organizational leaders also make for good human beings.  That’s why Method Leadership is based on them, and why they’re on our masthead.

Think.  Engage.  Learn.  Value.

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Michael Paul Jährling