Thursday, November 21, 2013

Emperors of the hundred valleys

Updated 11/24/2013
A wonderful piece on NPR 10 days ago by the company social scientist, Shankar Vedantam, on the "public leadership" professor Ronald Heifetz and his concept of adaptive leadership as more psychiatry than surgery:
"The dominant view of leadership is that the leader has the vision and the rest is a sales problem," he says. "I think that notion of leadership is bankrupt." That approach only works for technical problems, he says, where there's a right answer and an expert knows what it is.
Heifetz trained as a psychiatrist, and describes his view of effective leadership with an analogy from medicine. "When a patient comes to a surgeon, the surgeon's default setting is to say, 'You've got a problem? I'll take the problem off your shoulders and I'll deliver back to you a solution.' In psychiatry, when a person comes to you with a problem, it's not your job actually to solve their problem. It's your job to develop their capacity to solve their own problem." 
The main case study is that of the American-raised Greek politician George Papandreou, who studied with Heifetz, and who applied the technique with brilliant success as foreign minister (1999-2004)  to Greek-Turkish relations, not perhaps so much to the economic crisis as prime minister (2009-11).

Although one might argue that was the biggest and most adaptive-leaderish thing of all, in which he engineered what he believed was the least dreadful possible outcome (Greece's creditors agreeing to take a 50% haircut) by resigning, leaving the conservatives to do what they were preventing him from doing. A little bit as if Obama and Biden were to resign so that President Boehner could push through a 5% surtax on income over $200K. No, that would not happen, we would just go back to Reagan-proportion deficit increases, carefully targeted for the extra money to fall in the places where it would have the least economic effect, in the hands of rich rentiers and defense contractors. Our Republicans are more irresponsible than even the slimiest and most corrupt Greek conservatives, other than the neo-Nazis. That's some kind of achievement, huh?

The model applies, I think, to Obama's conduct of foreign relations, though, especially with Syria and Iran. And in general to the concept derided by assholes like Fox Business News's Steve Tobak as "leading from behind" according to whom leadership is the Bonapartist project of beating people up until they do what you want. Why do they hate freedom?

Oceans and rivers become emperors of the hundred valleys because they stay so perfectly below them.  This alone makes them emperors of the hundred valleys.
So, wanting to rule over the people, a sage speaks from below them, and wanting to lead the people, he follows behind them,
then he can reign above without weighing the people down and stay ahead without leading the people to ruin.

Quotation from the Daodejing along with the sheepdog picture from a very apposite article of a year ago (read it!) at The Useless Tree.


Leading from behind in Iran negotiation! I was thinking about this kind of outcome at the beginning of September. Mazel tov, Mr. P., and congratulations, world.

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