Power and Glory – philosophical musings


Recently I attended a political forum, and listened to folks try to explain to me why they are leaders. It made me think about that intangible quality I look for in someone to respect – and to think about the ways people work with others.

I’m not much of a follower. I’ve actually lost jobs because I couldn’t conform to a new set of non-official rules. (On one job, everybody but me seemed to adopt the boss’ wardrobe choices, verbal ticks, and social cues. I left the table to eat by myself.) Although I’ve sometimes learned to read minds – in a way – it’s always been the mind of someone I understand, not just any mind.

I’m realistic enough to know that leadership doesn’t have anything to do with followership. Leaders don’t need followers – they inspire, they direct, they guide. At least, that’s what I think.

So what do others think? I went looking for words that, to me, seemed full of wisdom.

Leadership and women

Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.

Margaret Thatcher

I’ve seen this in the movies. I’ve read it in the news. Person stands up in time of crisis and says ‘I’m in charge.’ That results in a footnote in the history books, as it invariably seems to turn out that that person was just . . . not really in command.

I’m thinking about Alexander Haig, of course, whose leadership in Vietnam remains unremarked by the many who think of him only as trying to shove his way to the front of the pack when Ronald Reagan was shot. Of course, that previous statement isn’t a true reflection of Gen. Haig’s career or of his intent when Reagan was shot. But it’s the essence of what people think. That’s why, when George W. Bush said ‘I’m the decider’ many of us laughed. If you have to say it, you aren’t.

My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who work and
those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there.

Indira Gandhi

This is a quote I could live by. I would like to be surrounded by folks who would live by this with me – those who don’t think competition is leadership, just a holdover from childhood. Of course, there’s always that issue of letting someone else take the credit – that fellow student who never showed up to work on the joint project, and gets the A you earned by yourself, that co-worker who steals your ideas and then sells them more successfully than you can. Life is a learning experience.

Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue
with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right.

Jane Goodall

This is a hard lesson to embrace. Most of us are willing to say ‘this is the right thing’ and then try to convince others that we know what we are talking about. It’s more difficult to talk with – not at – someone you think wrong (or merely misguided). What if, instead of changing that person’s mind, you find you’ve had to change your own? Where’s the virtue or leadership in that? But of course, I want the folks I engage to be able to change their minds – and that means, I have to open the door to the possibility that I’m wrong. By doing that, I have been able to shift their views a bit – and have been forced to shift mine. I think I’m wiser as a result, but not nearly as convinced.

Ancient wisdom on leadership

A leader is best when people barely know he exists,
when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.

—Lao Tzu

Indira Gandhi’s grandfather may not have read Lao Tzu, but they shared a moment. (n.b. – Indira was not related to Mohandas K. Gandhi.)

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

—Proverbs 29:18

Hard work, vision, and a sense of direction. But there must be more to it than that.

To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less.

—Andre Malraux

Some folks seem to have a hard time with the idea of being a ‘public servant’. I don’t mind getting the tea, bringing the cookies, picking up the papers afterwards. I’ll even set up the chairs. But I want you to help bring the ideas – to identify the problem and help find solutions.

Civility and leadership

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak;
be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid;
be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.

—Jim Rohn

The deeper I get into public policy, the easier it is to think I know the answers. Or to be intemperate about those who have different answers – because I know my answers are right. I try to take a deep breath, listen to others, and remember that I learn from them.

You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.

–Dwight Eisenhower

Don’t throw stones in public. Don’t tell everyone how smart – or wise – or right – you are. Let them figure it out for themselves. And maybe, just maybe, you aren’t all that smart or wise or right. Or anyway, that’s what I tell myself.

. . .the discontent of the people is more dangerous to a monarch
than all the might of his enemies on the battlefield.

Isabella d’Este

Words to live –or die – by.

(My thoughts are with the people of Syria and Turkey and others facing civil unrest and the risk of violence today.)

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2 Responses to Power and Glory – philosophical musings

  1. John Floyd says:

    Living out the Jane Goodall quote is as much a spiritual discipline as a practical approach to enacting change. It requires assuming that the people one believes are doing wrong are full human beings, and taking the risk that they might not give you a hearing at all.

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