Letters to the Editor

Thoughts on leadership

In 1982, The One Minute Leader hit the bestseller list.  Harlan Cleveland, president emeritus of the World Academy of Art & Science, read it and responded with an arsenal of eight generalist principles indispensable to success in complex, democratic environments where nobody seems to be in charge:

1. A lively intellectual curiosity, an interest in everything – because everything is  related to everything else, and whatever  you are trying to do.

2. A genuine interest in what other people think, - which means you have to be at peace with yourself for a start.

3. A feeling of special responsibility for envisioning a future that‘s different from the present.

4. A hunch that most risks are there not to be avoided but to be taken.

5. A mindset that crises are normal, tension and complexity is fun.

6. A realization that paranoia and self-pity is the province of those who do not want to be leaders.

7. A sense of personal responsibility for the general outcome of your efforts.

8. A quality of “unwarranted optimism” – the conviction that there must be some more upbeat outcome than would result from adding up the available expert advice.

Generalist means that there is no roadmap to mastery. The people who become leaders are those whose concern exceeds their  egos.  They simply get with it, do something that has not been done before and have fun doing it.  Their overriding concern is with the outcome of their efforts.

If you are one of these folks, you are likely to be a clarifier, definer, implementer, who is inclined to fight off the very vast majority who do not want the problem solved.

You will be counted among the movers, who galvanize and catalyze the social morale, showing others what they can be at their best.

Becoming a leader is not easy. It is wrenching, demanding and often traumatic.

As you mature, you learn how to go around or get around in the bureaucracies, how to outwit the hostage takers, hoodwink the analysts and suffer the fiscal scolds. You learn  that  relationships are important and that  everyone works together. You learn to persuade, not confront. You introduce your ideas by skillfully attributing them to others. (“What I hear you all saying is …”).

All this is the easy part.  Gaining the necessary breadth is the hard part.   The generalist must learn disparate facts and knowledge and fashion all of it into coherent strategies.

No one person can know enough to send a team of astronauts to the moon.   Many different types must come together to accomplish the shared objective.   It is all integrated: everything is related to everything. The  leader knows what is most important is to “Think Globally, Act Locally.”

It is not easy, but it is exciting and fulfilling, and leaders know that the exhilaration exceeds the exhaustion.

Ask President Barack Obama.

C. F. Baumgartner




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