Becoming a Great Leader: Advice from a Zero
by EDWARD CLINE
January 9, 2013
I suppose it is a law of political economy that when a burgeoning and omnivorous government reaches a certain stage of growth, its champions and beneficiaries and sinecured, career bureaucrats inaugurate self-congratulatory and appreciation organizations that "reward" bureaucrats and "public servants" for their work. These organizations are great for bringing the "recognized" together for speeches and photo-ops and a dose of "feel-good" camaraderie. Not to mention a medal and possibly a chunk of cash. Looking at the Washington Post's "Federal Coach" blog columns, written by Tom Fox of the Partnership for Public Service, one is amazed by the hubris of an organization that recognizes the efforts of salaried parasites who happen to be department heads or supervisors or White House cabinet members.
Scrolling through the Washington Post's daily grind the other morning - I subscribe to the Post and the New York Times Internet versions of the papers, just to keep an eye on them - a teaser caught my attention: "Lead 'em and Reap: Why self-sacrifice, shared values and reflective listening are the building blocks of great leadership."
My immediate mental rebuttal was: Obama isn't sacrificing anything, least of all himself, I share no values with him, and the building blocks he is fashioning, which resemble the Mafia's cement shoes, are resting on my head. He is not a "great" leader by any means, although he is a "leader." He is a community organizing Führer.
Clicking on the article, the page comes up with the startling headline: What makes a great federal leader?
The article is an interview by Fox of E. Allan Lind of Duke University, whose research "centers on leadership and global management issues." Lind discusses, with appropriate prompting by Fox, how bureaucrats and presidents and public servants can become effective Führers and gauleiters in the name of bureaucratic efficiency and effectiveness.
Most Americans, however, don't want efficient bureaucracies. Efficient and effective bureaucracies are a nemesis. If they must have them, Americans prefer inefficient ones that allow them a breathing space to mind their own business. Like me, they don't want "leaders." But apparently Lind and Fox have not received this message. Their heads are in the realm of theoretical authoritarianism.
Lind natters on in sociological and social-metaphysical language, focusing on how a "leader" can best get along with his underlings and coworkers. His advice could just as well apply to running a Boy Scout troop or a Chicago street gang or a Target women's accessories department. It has the nebulous consistency and mutability of a cloud.
Lind's chief point, on which the five other points seem to rely, is something called "reflective listening." This is "listening to what somebody says and then paraphrasing back to them [sic] to check understanding." In populist jargon, this means ensuring that the listener and the speaker are "on the same page," or confirming that the listener knows where someone is "coming from." You wonder how much Lind is being paid to play semantic alchemist and turn jargon and metaphorical patois into effervescent technicalese. Otherwise known as yadda-yadda.
Fox asks Lind what he and his colleague, Prof. Simon Sitkin, call the "Six Domains Leadership Pyramid." And you thought I was kidding about the technicalese. Lind replies:
The first domain is personal leadership, which is demonstrating vision, competency, authenticity and dedication - in essence, showing people why they should follow you. The second domain is relational leadership. You must understand your people's interests and their competencies, show concern for their well-being, and show fairness by behaving in an unbiased way. The third category is the idea of contextual leadership. This domain is all about how the leader conveys the essence of the organization to the people he or she is leading. These three domains form the base of a pyramid. If you adhere to these three domains, you build up a stock of leadership capital. Once you got this stock of leadership, then you can exercise inspirational leadership, which is getting people excited about the mission and getting them to be innovative and optimistic about the task.
Yes, this is "cloud speak." And if you follow the logic of it, you, the "great leader," will be sitting on top of the pyramid, on the pointy end of it, venerated and deferred to by all your underlings. In politics, there have been precedents for this kind of social metaphysical people management in pursuit of a variety of missions. In America, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and JFK. Overseas, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, weirdly-coiffed North Korean tyrants, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. To name but a few. Except that when they reached the top of the pyramid, concern for anyone else's well-being and for fairness and for wanting to solicit others' opinions so those others won't feel extraneous, ignored, and left out, all got thrown out the window.
As Lord Acton noted: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Unless you're already corrupted by power-lust, as President Barack Obama is. He'd just rather not have to deal with Congress. Just as Hitler did not wish to deal with the Reichstag.
Of course, if you're just a bureaucratic mediocrity and a cipher in the federal state of things, you needn't aspire to become a "great leader." You can settle for being just a comfortably ensconced and well-remunerated middle-of-the-road bureaucrat who follows all Lind's rules and is rewarded with "recognition" for not rocking the boat and doing nothing that would cause a sex scandal or bring charges of malfeasance on your head.
There really isn't much to report on Tom Fox, other than his association with the Partnership entities, which seek to make the federal government the "employer of choice for talented Americans." He's not even on Face Book, so his career antecedents are unknown. The Partnership for Public Service entities, however, have their tentacles and fingers everywhere, especially in universities.
This is to be expected in a culture that is turning more and more statist and European. If you're looking for "talented" young people to lord it over the serfs laboring in the private sector, recruit them straight out of the classroom. They've been prepared for "public service" in their studies and social lives. The Partnership entity, a non-profit, was founded by a former businessman, Samuel J. Heyman, who, fresh from Harvard, worked for Robert F. Kennedy. Well, that explains the political color of the organization, which is distinctly Democratic but particularly fascist.
Heyman made a lot of money in business later, and decided to fund an organization with it that would promote his own "employer of choice" - the federal government. It is a rule of thumb that businessmen who fund charities and organizations that promote the growth of government do so from a sense of guilt. Look at Bill Gates.
As for Lind, he has written several papers and is engaged in several projects. Choosing at random from his many papers and projects, here is a sample of his obfuscating, insubstantial wisdom, from "Social Conflict and Social Justice," an address and paper presented to Leiden University in 1995:
Many theories of social conflict suggest that whenever people try to divide scarce resources, their egoistic inclinations will push them toward competitive actions that ultimately result in mutual harm. The temptation to act competitively will prompt one person to make choices that benefit his or her individual interests but that harm others in the social group or society....
The consequences attached to various choices in the fundamental social dilemmas that I have in mind go to how we define ourselves and how much of our self-identity we are willing to put in the hands of others. As we move away from dilemmas of concrete outcomes and toward dilemmas of identity, I would argue, the stakes become much more important than any material outcome....
One prediction of the theory I have just described is that justice will be construed largely in terms of one's personal relationships to salient groups. If people generate justice judgments in order to have a standard to use in deciding whether they will be rejected or exploited, then it would make sense for the standard to be primarily concerned with the individual's own personal relationship with the group. Justice judgments should be very sensitive to indications that one is favorably or unfavorably positioned vis-à-vis one's group. ...
This suggests that the question in intergroup conflicts is not how to get people to abandon their original group identifications in favor of identification with another group. What is needed instead is a high level of overarching identification regardless of subgroup identification.
Had enough? Are your eyes crossed yet? There are pages and pages more. The term "social justice" should have served as a clue to its leftist character. How are your "egoistic inclinations" faring? Does wanting to retain ownership of your guns, or your property, or your life contribute to the harm of the social group or society? Are your "justice judgments" attuned to your group's sensitivities? If not, you're in for a boatload of conflict. Are you ready to submit to a "high level of overarching identification, regardless of your subgroup identification"? If not, prepare to be ostracized and shunted aside.
Hitler did that. He appealed to all Germans in a supreme example of "overarching identification." His "reflective listening" was to paraphrase right back at them the "unfairness" of the Versailles Treaty and the burden of the reparations and the demonization of Germany for having begun a war of conquest. This "overarching identification" included Catholics and Protestants, the young and old, the middle and lower classes, the white collar workers and the blue, men, and women and children. All subgroups.
His "reflective listening" did not solicit the opinions of Jews, gypsies, and the mentally retarded and permanently disabled. They were all thrown out the window. They were on pages he wished to rip from the book of great leadership. They had no place in the "Six Domains of Leadership Pyramid."
It may seem melodramatic using Hitler as an example of the kind of sociological nonsense and patent medicine statist solutions peddled by Lind and his ilk. After all, how many federal nonentities who are mere department heads or supervisors in any federal organization nurture in secret an ambition to become a "great leader"? Very damned few.
But they should take heart. After all, Hitler was awarded two Iron Crosses for just pedaling a bike. And he was among the greatest public servants of them all.
Edward Cline is the author of the Sparrowhawk novels set in England and Virginia in the pre-Revolutionary period, of several detective and suspense novels, and three collections of his commentaries and columns, all available on Amazon Books. His essays, book reviews, and other articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Journal of Information Ethics and other publications. He is a frequent contributor to Rule of Reason, Family Security Matters, Capitalism Magazine and other Web publications.