For the last week or so, I have been considering what it means to be a leader. I’ve been exploring my personal values about leadership and what I would like to see more of.
I’ll tell you about my influences. It may just make you laugh, and hopefully it makes you think.
Edwardian morality. It’s not Edwardian, per se, but simply associated (at least for me) with the tail-end of the 19th century and the first 3rd or so of the twentieth. After the smelling-salts-and-hysterical-invalid Victorian era, amongst middle class women (still the chaste protectors of society’s morals) there arose a desire to be not simply good, but useful. Therefore, a cheerful temperament, a desire to help in any way possible, and the gracious ability to rise to any occasion was highly prized (this is illustrated very clearly in WWI literature of the women’s auxiliaries).
Nowadays, I think these traits are shockingly undervalued. “Cheerful” in particular is underrated. Perhaps it’s because as a society we’ve grown so morose and reactionary, “cheerful” is looked upon as a direct affront to the seriousness of our lives. After all, none of us are going to get out alive.
David Weber’s novels (particularly the Honorverse). I know that critics say Weber has painted Honor Harrington as too-perfect, and the trend these days is towards flawed protagonists. But hell, everyone needs an ideal. For me, I think he paints far too rosy a picture of the bureaucracy that runs Honor’s Star Kingdom. But we won’t get into that.
What’s important to note is the incredible amount of behind-the-scenes work that Honor does. You can believe that she’s fit for the role because she’s always two steps ahead of even her (very able) lieutenants. Furthermore, she mentors her underlings and spends a great deal of time training them, and providing opportunities for them to become outstanding. In spite of the fact that she always seems to know what’s best to do, she encourages alternatives and new ideas, and gives her people lots of leash with which to run with these new ideas. Finally, she engenders respect and loyalty by knowing each of her underlings as people, not just cogs in a machine, and makes and effort to spend face time amongst the troops every week, no matter what else is going on.
What modern mogul can compare? No one I’ve come across.
History. Lame, eh? I strongly believe that “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” That’s not to say that I can recreate battles from the War of 1812. Rather, I like the broad sweeping lessons that come down through history. Most vivid for me right now is the fall of the Roman Empire. Bureaucracy is an ever-tightening snare. If you get far enough from basic survival in your day-to-day life, without becoming mindful you risk decadence.
Furthermore, for those of you that believe that the light of truth and justice will continue to shine no matter what, in every instance of enlightenment throughout history, barbarian hordes stormed in a razed the place, resulting in a dark era. Every one. Actually, this is a fun exercise. If you represent a city with a public school system, an educated middle class, or an emphasis on knowledge on a map with a candle, and then run the timelines, you can almost see the barbarian hordes chasing that candle across the known world, snuffing it, every chance they get. Why? In simple terms, enlightenment generally meant prosperity (the causal factor here may be switched,) and prosperity attracts the looting and pillaging types.
I’ve always thought that would be fun to write an epic fantasy about. Sadly, my attention span is not there.
Anyway, what I was getting at is that, while I believe that humanity will always find a way to shine, if we don’t make sure to shield our little fire, somebody with mommy issues is going to stomp it for us like a sandcastle at the beach.
What that means for our leadership is that we need to encourage mindfulness in the fact that prosperity and enlightenment are not an unassailable right. Barbarity is not a phase we’ve outgrown.Aw, I’m getting all philosophical again. Time to get out while the getting’s good.
What do you think a good archetype for leadership is?