26 April 2007

International "Be Your Own Leader" Day

"Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom."
- Soren Kierkegaard

I've tended to write a great deal about autonomy. To me, it seems like a compelling motivation and I tend to forget that all of us subordinate it to other goals at times. Sometimes freedom of choice is simply overwhelming and we'd much prefer a prescription. "Take these classes and then pursue this exciting career as an airport kiosk tender. Trust us, it's the best you can do."

It's worth remembering that the peasants in Prussia ran to the defense of royalty - the very peasants whose lives were miserable and poor. A similar thing happened during the French Revolution. To this day, some people prefer strong leaders, even if their conditions under them are miserable.

I once heard management consultant Peter Block state, "Leadership is a collusion between control freaks and the irresponsible." The very notion of strong leadership may rest of the fact of a significant portion of the population having what we might, somewhat delicately, call psychological issues.

Sometime between the age of 15 and 30, we tell our children that there is no such thing as a free lunch - this after they've been eating them all their lives. Development transitions are tricky. I suspect that we're at a point in history where progress will depend on a critical mass of the population rejecting a model of leadership that we've been dependent upon for centuries.

One way to look at the Protestant Reformation is to see it as a rejection of the strong leader in the form of a pope. The idea at the heart of the Protestant Revolution is that the individual would, ultimately, be responsible for his or her own salvation and peace. The neurotic conditions such a burden can trigger would be itself worthy of its own thesis, but it is freedom.

It is easy to see the Enlightenment-era overthrow of monarchs as another chapter in the rejection of strong leaders.

Given that history never looks like history when you're living through it, many have missed the overthrow of the banker as the strong leader who determines whether you deserve credit and how long you have to pay back loans. The credit card is both symbol of, and means for, the individual freedom to decide whether or not to incur debt and how quickly to pay it back. As with freedom of religion and democracy, credit has been a promise and a threat. Those in poverty in the 19th century may have felt like victims of fate, whereas today's bankrupt may well feel like victims of their own choices (or the fine print of clever lawyers).

Freedom from strong leadership brings with it a particular accountability that all of us would like to shirk at times. But I do think that once a person gets past the existential void of "but what do I do if not what has been prescribed for me?" this freedom is empowering.

Rather than ask ourselves "Who will be president in 2008?" we might ask ourselves, "Who will I be in the game of politics in 2008?" We should continually remind ourselves to be our own leaders. Companies are desperate for our business. Politicians are desperate for our votes. If we lead, they will follow. Where else would they go?


Chrlane said...

I'd like to feel inspired by today's post, but I am finding a troubling rift of logic here in your observations. Ironic seeing how adept you were the other day about discussing the interconnectedness of all things.

And thus, I draw your attention once more to the blind spots I mentioned in an earlier comment.

Your presumption that everybody who has not had your strengths and opportunities has "psychological issues", is trying at best. Your blind spot is proof that you would need assistance in certain facets of business in order to compensate as the resulting failures slowly manifested.

Science has shown us repeatedly how environmental and nutritional catalysts cause these so-called issues, or blind spots; which form our very genetic makeup. And so, it is illogical to write them off casually as "psychological issues" that conveniently belong to someone else. For me, they are the very reason I do the work I do. They have been intrinsic in my studies, and in my motivations, these relationships. (I was born with this gift, and it has been refined by experience, and very rarely do I meet my equal in this area.)

Furthermore, somebody has to operate the kiosk at the airport, or there will be no flights. Clearly, we can't all be in leadership roles. And so, it is vital that the kiosk worker not only knows how to do their job properly, but is also enabled to enjoy that job to some reasonable extent, so as to be an ongoing asset to the employer. If less apt employees are continually being rewarded as entrepreneurs by the market, when the vision and skill is lacking, then they will not be there to support a given employer. This will result in an inability for smaller companies to find skilled labor, while larger companies crumble. Too much competition is no better than a monopoly, and the answer lies on regulating educational standards. If the people coming into a system are inadequately trained, or else talentless people are being admitted to studies for disciplines they are not adept at, simply to capitalize from their tuition fees, you get an economic void, plain and simple.

You also need to realize that, although many a lowly kiosk worker has crashed through that glass ceiling, they had to have that ground level experience in order to learn the company's structure, before they could climb anywhere, or leave and become independent contractors with a substantial enough client-base to sustain themselves.

That being said, I understand what you are saying, and agree in part with it. I also see you have had a tendency to be somewhat oblivious of certain realities, and also lean towards a tendency to project, and leap to false conclusions, and this troubles me.

Chrlane said...

I wanted to add that the reason why handing out educational certificates and degrees like counterfeit bills is a destructive economic trend, is that the market becomes aggression and politics driven as opposed to merit driven.

Overly aggressive employees will vie for leadership roles, rather than making the most of their positions and earning their way up the corporate ladder. And this, too, undermines the success of a corporation.

It's the reason why nepotism is frowned upon. I say we take that legislation a step farther, and modulate a merit- based academic performance.

This is not an advocacy for the spreading of ignorance, but rather, allowing receptivity to knowledge to be encouraged, so that nature can regulate the gene pool of it's own accord. We tamper too much, and we forget just how natural the process of selection can be if we have faith in merit.

I home school in an effort to circumvent the mentality which opposes intellectual merit in favor of aggression-driven competitiveness.

cce said...

Uhmm, I guess chrlane got up on the wrong side of the bed today. Maybe she's not aware of the tone she strikes here in her comments...
"a troubling rift of logic in your observations, your presumption, your blind spot, you also need to realize that, you have a tendency to be somewhat oblivious to certain realities" just a tad pendantic, chrlane.
Ron, I wish I were more of an activist but the one time I tried to really effect political change was in the last election. Canvassing poor neighborhoods in Miami for Kerry, driving people without transportation to the polls. But it's just so damn depressing to lose at that kind of passionate effort. I must admit I've been sitting on my hands, politically, since. Screaming I told you so's at my tv and computer screens. It's hard to engage again.

Chrlane said...


>Uhmm, I guess chrlane got up on the wrong side of the bed today. Maybe she's not aware of the tone she strikes here in her comments...

"Today I thought I was beating the hordes by rolling out of bed at 5 a.m. but it would seem that they were each were poised on the edge of their mattresses ready to spring into action at the first sign of life behind the parental door."


Ron Davison said...

As always, interesting and provocative comments. My buddy David tells me that this posting is too long. It seems as though the old "can never be too rich or too thin" adage has been replaced with the blogosphere, "can never be too succinct." I'll only make the posting even more plodding should I prattle on, but here it goes.
One of the reasons I blog is to get some kind of feedback about my blind spots, so thanks. I do think that there is a difference between level of ability and desire to be led. Perhaps you're right that they are more related than I think. I do quite agree with your point that aggression - or what I too often attribute to the misuse of testosterone - often replaces merit. Those game for action displace those who'd prefer to reflect first.

Ron Davison said...

understood. I guess with today's posting I'm thinking out loud. The next real question I've yet to answer is, "If political activism doesn't take the form of getting particular candidates elected, what does it mean?" It's towards that horizon my blurry thoughts are pointed.

Chrlane said...

I do not agree with David that your post was too long. They are as long as you require them to be, and I apologize if I am the one who made you question the length of them. I know when I wrote my responses, it occured to me that they were too long, but then I realized I was being self-conscious, and that my goal was thoroughness. The goal, after all, is to communicate ideas.

I never meant to imply an exclusivity in the relationship between ability and submissiveness. I agree that sometimes able people feel a need to be led. However, I question whether this is unhealthy.

I also question whether ability and capacity necessarily go hand in hand. I think sometimes people need to learn certain things hands on from a more experienced person. We all have different styles of learning.

A lot of emphasis is placed on independence in this day and age, but I assert that it is strong relationships and good communication skills that make true success. How these are applied is as individual as a person's natural aptitudes and inclinations. I enjoy our exchanges, and the way you are so receptive to me when I am in thinking mode. I find it a challenge to pepper my political insights with niceties, if only because they distract from my purpose. I take for granted that you know I enjoy the exchange since I am taking the time to comment so extensively.

Anyhow, personally, I enjoy the training process a great deal. I perform best by learning hands on and by innovating existing models and processes. Naturally, I prefer to think this is not a weakness or an indicator of "psychological issues". :)

Chrlane said...

LOL! And I am not sure that aggression is strictly testosterone driven, either. There are some very hormonal women rushing about too. ;)

Sorry for carrying on. You struck a nerve today, it seems.

Ron Davison said...

If nothing else, you've made me aware that I'm far from providing operational definitions of the terms I'm using. I enjoy your comments and the thought you put into them. I used to use 3's and 4's on class surveys, for instance, that asked how I judged something on a scale of 1 to 5. Increasingly, I use 1's and 5's to more clearly make my point about "really liked it" or "you need to focus here." With you I don't have to wonder about whether you kind of liked it or kind of didn't. You're always welcome to stop by and share your thoughts. Thanks.

David said...

This whole thing is too long. I lost the original point...was there one?

Ron Davison said...

I was going to make a point but that seemed so tired and cliche. What is the point of freedom of speech if you have to make a point every time you speak?