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Category Archives: Leadership

Opus meum fecit cogitare hodie de superbia. Multus auctores de superbia scribunt. In “urbs dei,” St. Augustine dicit illam superbia malae res accidunt cur est. While I’m paraphrasing, he essentially ascribes all the evil in the world, one way or the other, to man’s pride. Why did something bad to happen you? Because on some level you had too much pride. Origen, in “in prima principa,” dicit illam spuerbia casui ducit.  His argument is that pride and conceit stem from unearned grace, leading to one’s downfall. Metaphysics aside, overwhelming, overweening pride can help one take actions and make decisions that cause real damage.

This should not be confused with being irresolute or with needing to lack dignity. These qualities are both actually important for a leader.

In “The Prince,” Machiavelli discusses irresolution. He states that: “Irresolute princes, to avoid present dangers, usually follow the way of neutrality and are mostly ruined by it.” So decisiveness is necessary in leadership, but it should be tempered by a sober assessment of one’s strengths and weaknesses. To paraphrase Sun Tzu, make fewer mistakes than your opponent. Pride gets in the way of this.

In “The Discourses,” Machiavelli is discussing dignity. He states that: “A ruler should never forget his dignity.” On the surface this would seem to contradict what we have been discussing up until now, but in reality it doesn’t. A leader must maintain an external persona; calm, decisive, ethical. Failing to maintain these qualities externally will lead everyone to doubt your decisions and question your judgment. To borrow a well-used phrase, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

Audacia

Two esoteric German military books make interesting points about leadership that are relevant in the 21st Century.

In his “Power of Personality in War,” von Freytag-Loringhoven is talking about the qualities necessary for a good leader.  To paraphrase, one of his points is that “successus potem est ubi audacia librum regnum habet.”

All too often, we make a process out of leadership.  Whether it is in the business world, in coaching, or in the military.  We feel that the process makes it a teachable quality, which is often not the case.  We also tend to focus too much on the process and this can diminish the outcome.  To quote von Freytag-Loringhoven explicitly (talking about military leadership, but relevant elsewhere): “We must take care that the mass of minutia required in modern-day planning does not overshadow the spirit of the operation itself, and cause us to judge the operation by the excellence or insufficiency of its staff work, rather than by its scope and daring, as he should.”

On the surface, focusing on the process seems like a good idea.  It builds in controls, checks, balances against mistakes that are too costly or that take an organization in a direction the organization doesn’t want to go.  However, it breeds inefficiency, is costly in terms of overhead, squashes initiative, and may result in the loss of valuable opportunities.  In his book, “Surprise”, General Waldemar Erfurth quoted Thucydides (and I’m paraphrasing here): “bonae occasiones non manent.”

How do we focus on the outcome rather than the process?  Often by simplifying.  This can be done by flattening an organizational chart, this tends to make an organization faster, more responsive, and more accountable.  Also by empowering individuals to make decisions and act on opportunities, which can be uncomfortable.  nos hunc timemus quia nemo bonas sententias potest facere aut sic cogitamus.

perditis occasionibus saepe manere aget.